Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are a leading cause of death and disability in children and adolescents in the U.S. In fact, infants up to age 4 and teens between the ages of 15 and 19 are at greatest risk for a brain injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While advances in pediatric critical care in the past two decades have led to greatly improved survival rates in pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) nationally, neurological dysfunction is still a common result of critical illness, particularly after TBI.
That’s what makes Elizabeth Newell’s research on TBI so important.
Newell (05MD, 08R), an assistant professor of pediatrics–critical care in the University of Iowa Stead Family Department of Pediatrics, is working to improve outcomes following TBI in her clinical care practice, which she couples with her research on how immune cells in the brain respond to a TBI and impact long-term recovery.
Although neuroimmune activation is crucial to recovery after TBI, a dysregulated immune response can result in secondary brain injury. One area of Newell’s research focuses on how neuroinflammation contributes to these long-term deficits after a TBI, which can continue for months or years following the immediate impact.
“Those are the pathways where there’s opportunity to intervene because there’s a prolonged therapeutic window,” Newell says. “That’s our focus.”