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The Pediatric Neurotrauma Lab, directed by Andrew Reisner, MD, is a multi-institutional collaboration between Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Emory University. Our mission is to establish a basic science research program focused on pediatric traumatic brain injury (TBI). We work to improve the health and quality of life of children living with acute neurological injuries, specifically TBI.

Through our large volume of pediatric neurotrauma patients, we use translational research to improve patient care. We collaborate with local and national researchers of all disciplines to advance the understanding and treatment of TBI.

The Pediatric Neurotrauma Lab’s mission is to facilitate research that can improve the treatment and outcomes of traumatic brain injuries in children.

Our lab focuses on three main areas of study:

Traumatic brain injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when an outside force is applied to the head and results in an interruption of normal brain function. The severity of a TBI can range from mild (a brief change in mental status or consciousness) to severe (an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia).

TBI is a major public health problem and a leading cause of death and permanent disability in U.S. children and adolescents. The most common causes of TBI are sports injuries and motor vehicle accidents. The impact of TBI on a child and his or her family can be devastating.

Concussion

A concussion is a mild form of TBI since they’re not usually life threatening and is caused by a bump, blow or jolt to the head. Concussions can also occur from a fall or a hit to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth. Although most children make a complete recovery from a concussion, the effects of a concussion can occasionally be serious and long lasting. This is especially true if a child has second impact syndrome. This happens when a concussed brain is reinjured before it has recovered from its initial concussion. This is a serious and potentially fatal condition. We are collaborating to create guidelines that allow for careful, supervised return to play and return to school to help patients avoid this condition.

Biomarkers

A biomarker, or biological marker, is something that can be easily measured to show the severity of a particular disease. Biomarkers can be used to guide treatments by measuring their response to a particular therapy. For example, doctors can test a patient’s blood glucose level in response to insulin.

Despite extensive research, there is no reliable biomarker for TBI to date. A critical part of our research at Children’s is locating a specific biomarker for TBI.

Children’s receives grant to study brain injuries

Neurosurgeon Andrew Reisner, MD, and Neuropsychologist Laura Blackwell, PhD, received a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study a potential blood biomarker that could detect pediatric traumatic brain injuries and their severity.

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According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), translation is the process of turning observations in the lab, clinic and community into interventions that improve the health of individuals or populations.

The Pediatric Neurotrauma Lab at Children’s was set up to facilitate translational research on TBIs, including concussions. It is designed to complement our large clinical volume. The purpose of this research is to help find better treatments for pediatric TBI.

Translational research can encompass a spectrum of stages with the ultimate goal of moving understandings gained from basic research into interventions that improve the health of individuals and, ultimately, populations. NCATS recognizes that the full spectrum of translational research includes basic research (scientific exploration), preclinical research (applying fundamental discoveries), clinical research (clinical trials and health services research) and clinical implementation (adoption as routine practice and any resulting new questions or gaps in care).*

*National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. “Translational Science Spectrum.” National Institutes of Medicine. Updated July 16, 2018. Retrieved Nov. 13, 2018, from https://ncats.nih.gov/translation.

Advisory committee
  • Donald G. Stein, PhD
  • Susan Margulies, PhD
  • David Wright, MD
  • Stacy Heilman, PhD
  • Clint Joiner, MD

  • Grant: NIH R21-Osteopontin as a Blood Biomarker in Severe Pediatric Brain Injury
  • Emerging Leaders for Children’s selected the Concussion Program as beneficiary of its 2017 fundraising efforts (approximately $250,000)
  • Elaine and John C. Carlos Chair for Neurotrauma
  • Children’s Trust

Reisner, A., Ralston, A. K., Vats, A., Sawvel, M. S., & Blackwell, L. S. (2019). Commentary: Guidelines for the Management of Pediatric Severe Traumatic Brain Injury, Third Edition: Update of the Brain Trauma Foundation Guidelines, Executive Summary. Neurosurgery, 85(2). doi:10.1093/neuros/nyz192.

Gao, N., Zhang-Brotzge, X., Wali, B., Sayeed, I., Chern, J. J., Blackwell, L. S., . . . Reisner, A. (2019). Plasma osteopontin may predict neuroinflammation and the severity of pediatric traumatic brain injury. Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism, 40(1), 35-43. doi:10.1177/0271678x19836412

Reisner, A. R., Chern, J. J., Walson, K., Tillman, N., Petrillo-Albarano, T., Sribnick, E. A., Blackwell, L. S., Suskin, Z. D., Kuan, C., & Vats, A. (2018). Introduction of severe traumatic brain injury care protocol is associated with reduction in mortality for pediatric patients: A case study of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Neurotrauma Program. Journal of Neurosurgery: Pediatrics, 22(2), 165-172.

Reisner, A., Burns, T. G., Hall, L. B., Jain, S., Weselman, B. C., DeGrauw, T. J., Ono, K. E., Blackwell, L. S., & Chern, J. J. (2017). Quality improvement in concussion care: Influence of guideline-based education. The Journal of Pediatrics, 184, 26-31. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2017.01.045.

King, H., Campbell, S., Herzog, M., Popoli, D., Reisner, A., & Polikandriotis, J. (2015). Epidemiology of injuries in high school football: Does school size matter? Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 12(8), 1162-1167. doi: 10.1123/jpah.2014-0356.

Reisner, A., Popoli, D. M., Burns, T. G., Marshall, D. L., Jain, S., Hall, L. B., Vova, J. A., Kroll, S., Weselman, B. C., Palasis, S., Hayes, L. L., Clark, G. H., Speake, K. M., Holbrook, B. H., Wiskind, R. H., Licata, R. M., Ono, K. E., Hogan, E., Chern, J. J., & DeGrauw, T. (2015). The central role of community-practicing pediatricians in contemporary concussion care: A case study of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Concussion Program. Clinical Pediatrics, 54(11), 1031-1037. doi: 10.1177/0009922815573468.

Popoli, D. M., Burns, T. G., Meehan, W. P. III, & Reisner, A. (2014). CHOA concussion consensus: Establishing a uniform policy for academic accommodations. Clinical Pediatrics, 53(3), 217-224. doi: 10.1177/0009922813499070. May, K. M., Marshall, D. L., Burns, T. G., Popoli, D. M., & Polikandriotis, J. A. (2014). Pediatric sports specific return to play guidelines following concussion. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 9(2), 242-255.

Ono, K. E., Burns, T. G., Bearden, D. J., McManus, S. M., King, H., & Reisner, A. (2016). Sex-based differences as a predictor of recovery trajectories in young athletes after a sports-related concussion. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(3), 748-752. doi: 10.1177/0363546515617746.

Refer to the links on individual faculty pages for a more comprehensive list of publications.

Get involved

Periodically, the Pediatric Neurotrauma Lab may have opportunities for others to get involved in its lab work and research.

If you are a student or researcher with an interest in translational research and a passion for improving outcomes for children and young people with TBI, we would love to hear from you.

Register your interest by emailing us at pediatricneurotraumalab@choa.org.

Donate today

Our research at the Pediatric Neurotrauma Lab is supported by the generosity of our donors. Whether you have been personally affected by a TBI or simply feel compelled to support our vital work, you can donate today.