Officials at the University of Texas Medical Branch today announced details of a $9 million pledge by The Moody Foundation of Galveston to support traumatic brain injury research at UTMB. 

Last week, the Moody Foundation pledged $25.5 million, which includes $9 million to $18 million for research and financial support for construction of the new Jennie Sealy Hospital on the university’s island campus. 

Extensive evidence shows that brain trauma initiates a disease process that severely affects cognitive function, physiological processes and quality of life. These effects can prevent patients from fully reentering society post-injury and may ultimately contribute to premature death months or years later. 

Specifically, traumatic brain injury is strongly associated with neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's dementia, Parkinson's disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Recently, researchers from UTMB and the Transitional Learning Center published a highly cited paper emphasizing that TBI is not just an acute process but one that causes many chronic disorders.

“The Moody Foundation is proud to be part of the university’s efforts to help those who suffer from traumatic brain injury to lead more fulfilling lives,” said Frances Moody-Dahlberg, executive director and trustee of The Moody Foundation. 

UTMB researchers hope to unveil novel treatments for both chronic and acute TBI with a two-fold strategy. The first will involve adult circulating progenitor cells. Several similar cell studies at UTMB have shown substantially improved brain function after brain trauma. 

The second strategy will look at the specific genes and proteins that are altered as a result of TBI. The genetic and protein “fingerprints” of injury will give researchers an opportunity to identify drug treatments that will modify the fingerprints and ultimately reduce the severity of brain damage induced by TBI.

Combining drug treatments with adult circulating progenitor cells has the potential to make substantial advances in the treatment of TBI, both reducing the severity of acute injury and improving function in patients with chronic TBI.

“We are so grateful to The Moody Foundation for this very generous and forward-looking gift,” said Dr. David L. Callender, UTMB president. “This grant will allow for the kind of detailed study that is essential to developing safe and effective therapies for traumatic brain injury.”

Traumatic brain injury occurs when a sudden trauma causes damage to the brain and can be classified as mild, moderate or severe, depending on the extent of the damage. While many patients recover completely, more than 90,000 become disabled each year in the U.S. alone. It is estimated that more than 3.5 million Americans are presently disabled by brain injuries — suffering lifelong conditions as a result.

The principal investigators of this research will be Dr. Douglas DeWitt, Professor of Anesthesiology at UTMB; Dr. Brent Masel, Director of the Transitional Learning Center; and Dr. Donald Prough, Chairman of the UTMB Department of Anesthesiology and interim Dean of the UTMB School of Medicine.

The Moody Foundation was established by W.L. Moody Jr. and his wife, Libbie Shearn Moody, in 1942. The more than $54 million in UTMB projects funded by The Moody Foundation have included construction of the Mary Moody Northen Pavilion and Moody Medical Library, as well as support for the Cognitive Rehabilitation Program and other research initiatives. The Foundation’s contribution of 2,500 historically significant books, letters, manuscripts and early printings made the UTMB’s renowned Blocker History of Medicine Collections one of the largest repositories of Louis Pasteur writings outside of France.