Aiding Recovery in Moderate TBI Patients

PhD student awarded Society of Trauma Nurses grant to advance symptom science of traumatic brain injury

Kathryn Gerber, a PhD in Nursing Science student at the School of Nursing and Health Studies (SONHS), was awarded a grant from the professional nonprofit organization the Society of Trauma Nurses in 2021 for her proposal, “Neuroinflammatory biomarkers, symptoms, and functional outcomes in individuals with moderate traumatic brain injury.”

Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is classified as either mild, moderate, or severe. To date, notes Gerber, individuals with moderate TBI have been understudied, and their symptoms poorly defined, especially during the critical convalescence period, 3 to 12 months post-injury.

Gerber, the study’s principal investigator (PI), plans to address this knowledge gap by providing insight into the relationship between relevant symptoms and disability.

“Our findings will enable more appropriate, evidence-based care to be given to patients who have experienced a traumatic mechanism, namely TBI, and additionally will help guide trauma nurses in their clinical practice to better understand the connection between symptoms and functional outcomes in TBI patients and anticipate plan of care,” she says. “Longer-term, our findings may help biomarkers be incorporated into clinical guidelines and inform future intervention development.”

Gerber will document the frequency and severity of physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms of 125 study participants diagnosed with a moderate TBI sustained within the past 3 to 12 months and investigate the relationship between frequency and severity of moderate TBI symptoms and functional outcomes for patients, such as independence, disability, and quality of life. She will also examine the extent to which four neuroinflammatory blood biomarkers previously implicated in TBI (IL-6, S-100ß, RAGE, and GFAP) moderate the relationship between symptoms and functional outcomes for study participants.

The site for Gerber’s study is UHealth/Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. She will use the SONHS Biobehavioral Research Lab to analyze neuroinflammatory biomarkers in the blood of study participants. Members of the multidisciplinary research team from SONHS include Gerber’s PhD advisor, Charles Downs, PhD, ACNP-BC, an associate professor (nurse scientist); Victoria Behar-Zusman (psychologist), PhD, associate dean for research and professor; and statistical expert for the study, Arsham Alamian, PhD, MSc, FACE, associate dean for Health Studies and associate professor.

Serving as mentors and consultants on the grant are Gemayaret Alvarez-Gonzalez, MD, medical director of neuro rehabilitation at Jackson Health System’s Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center, and TBI expert Jessica Gill, PhD, RN, FAAN, a senior investigator with the National Institute of Nursing Research/Johns Hopkins University.

“Exposure to different faculty research initiatives as both a research assistant and lab team member at the School of Nursing and Health Studies has helped me obtain research skills and refine my own area of interest,” says Gerber. “I’m grateful to SONHS and the Society of Trauma Nurses for investing in my research and am hopeful I can contribute meaningfully to the scientific literature in TBI, which can improve outcomes for rehabilitating patients.”