Did you know that traumatic brain injury is the single most common cause of death and acquired disability in childhood? In fact, the rate of deaths from traumatic brain injuries is five times greater per year in the US than from leukemia—the number two cause of mortality.
"And what makes these types of cases so difficult is, we still haven't found a specific treatment of any kind that helps the brain to repair and heal itself," explains Dr. Ann-Christine "Tina" Duhaime, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD). "All we can do is try to keep the damage to a minimum, and that involves trying to minimize swelling, to control bleeding, and to keep the body stable while the brain is trying to recover."
Dr. Duhaime has led a number of collaborative studies over the past two decades that have been focused on learning more about how the immature brain responds to injury. "But, there's still a lot of work to be done," she says. "Expanding our research is the key to finding new treatments that can improve outcomes for these children. That's why we've undertaken a major effort to build funding for a Pediatric Neuroscience Endowed Chair."
Boosting research support
One exciting development from this effort is Duhaime's recent hiring of Dr. Beth Costine, PhD. As CHaD's first-ever Pediatric Neuroscience Program Coordinator, Costine will participate in, help administer, and facilitate a wide variety of research projects in pediatric neuroscience.
With three years of post-doctoral experience and nine years of pre-doctoral training, Costine brings broad knowledge and expertise in basic science research to the clinical research setting. "Basically, my role is to be a resource for Dr. Duhaime and her physician colleagues—whose time is mostly committed to caring for patients—so that they're able to get more research done," says Costine.
"They have the ideas, the clinical experience, and the questions that they want to have answered, and I'm bringing the tools from the academic side to help them in a variety of ways which include—finding and interpreting literature, designing experiments, explaining the science behind certain lab techniques, running statistics, and analyzing data," she explains.
Bridging the gap
Costine will also be focused on helping Duhaime to identify funding opportunities for pilot projects, to manage existing research funds, and to write new grants. "We're just coming off year five of a 5-year National Institutes of Health grant, so we're wrapping up experiments, looking at the data, and writing the papers," she explains. "This work has largely been focused on trying to determine how the immature brain reacts differently to trauma at different stages of development, from infants to toddlers to adolescents, and the role that gender may play in these differences. The next grants will begin to look at why these differences occur and to start testing potential treatments."
Costine feels that her new position is an exceptionally good fit for her background, expertise, and goals. "Tina and the whole group are great to work with," she says. "They have a passion to find a treatment for brain trauma in kids, and they really want to be able to do it soon. I share that same passion. Working together, we have a wonderful opportunity to translate what we're learning to clinical care."