$7 Million in Awards Fund Research for Veterans
Research by the Center for BrainHealth Aims to Help Veterans Deal with Post-Combat Issues

The Center for BrainHealth at UT Dallas has received more than $7 million in funding for three pioneering research studies that focus on enhancing and understanding brain function to help military service members return to civilian life or active duty.

“Since the wars began in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have wanted to apply our novel, evidence-based research protocols to benefit veterans,” said Dr. Sandi Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth. “These men and women have fought courageously for our country, and our goal is to do everything possible to support their success once home or during deployment.”

BrainHealth’s research team has begun screening service men and women who are interested in participating in the studies.

Scientists at the Center for BrainHealth have reached out to the veteran community of North Texas and created a Warriors Roundtable to raise awareness about the innovative research and its potential to help service members.

Clint Bruce, a former Navy SEAL who leads the Warriors Roundtable said, “The Center’s mission has more potential to restore warriors, to restore families, and to restore the unique and proven minds of our service members than anything I have seen in years.”

Veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injury are the focus of one of the studies. Researchers have developed and tested a cognitive training program called Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART). The training is designed to advance decisive leadership training through the areas of strategic attention, higher-order integrated reasoning, and innovative problem-solving skills.

“We do not want to be a last resort for the injured but rather a place to test, define, and deliver effective training protocols to elevate brain fitness much in the same way service members are expected to train for physical fitness,” said Dr. Dan Krawczyk, program leader at the Center for BrainHealth.

Krawczyk said the brain training program has been successful with civilians with brain injuries.

The second study seeks to lessen the hyperemotional memories of life-threatening situations that make it difficult for veterans to adjust to everyday life. Scientists will use repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS), a handheld figure-eight shaped magnetic coil that painlessly interrupts the hyperemotional response in the brain, to arm veterans with a new way to handle distressing thoughts associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The third study aims to strengthen brain performance of service members through haptics, or the senses of touch and feel, in a virtual environment. The study hopes to uncover key insights into how the brain most efficiently signals a person’s body to move a prosthesis. A better understanding of these signals could ultimately help those who have lost limbs in service to their country.

Using a 3-D viewing screen and handheld probe, research participants are able to receive sensory feedback, such as weight, force, and vibration from the virtual objects they are shown. Because the user experiences such a valid sense of reality, haptics research offers numerous potential benefits: minimizing error rates, increasing motor coordination, improving decision-making, and quickly adapting to unexpected events.

The Warriors Round Table is comprised of recent military and special operations personnel who represent those most often deployed and likely to face combat from all military branches. Their outreach focuses significantly on enlisted service members and junior officer ranks.

John Hart, M.D., medical science director at the Center for BrainHealth, emphasized that the stigma associated with getting help must be overcome and suggested that the center is particularly well positioned to advance that objective.

“Our research team will use leading-edge treatments to help one of this country’s most important populations – our service members,” Dr. Hart noted. “All services are free and anonymous, and we are dedicated to creating an integrated environment where veterans can participate in promising, state-of-the-art research protocols.”

The Meadows Foundation, Ed and Julie Hawes, in honor of his father, Colonel Edwin H. Hawes, Linda and Joel Robuck, the United States Department of Defense and the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) funded the novel studies.

Matching funds have also been awarded for these studies through the state-funded Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP) and a similar matching gift program from The University of Texas System Board of Regents.

A student is fitted with equipment for Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. A new study aims to help those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

A student uses equipment that is part of haptics research, which could help identify how the brain can best signal the body to move a prosthesis.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].