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Toronto (Sept. 22, 2009) - Dr. Robin Green, a scientist and clinical neuropsychologist at Toronto Rehab and head of the hospital's Cognitive Neurorehabilitation Sciences Lab, has been awarded a prestigious Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC) for her groundbreaking research on brain injury.
The CRC in Traumatic Brain Injury — Cognitive Rehabilitation Neuroscience, University of Toronto, will cover Dr. Green's salary for five years. At U of T, Dr. Green's primary appointment is in the Department of Psychiatry, Neuroscience Division. She is also leader of the Social and Cognitive Sciences field of the Graduate Department of Rehabilitation Sciences.
"Canada's government is investing in science and technology to strengthen the economy, improve Canadians' quality of life and create the jobs of tomorrow — today," the Honourable Gary Goodyear, Minister of State (Science and Technology), said today in announcing funding for new and renewed CRCs based at Canadian universities.
"The Canada Research Chairs Program helps attract and retain the best researchers from the country and around the world to Canadian universities, which has direct benefits for our communities."
"I'm extremely honoured by this award which will advance my lab's work in understanding, assessing and treating traumatic brain injury," said Dr. Green. "This field is poised for breakthroughs as we learn more and more about the brain's ability to change after injury and about those factors that impede recovery. Our enhanced understanding is pointing the way to better treatments and outcomes for brain injured patients."
Already, Dr. Green's research has provided crucial insights into traumatic brain injury (TBI), a leading cause of death and disability. TBI can have devastating effects on a person's ability to think and learn, and on the stability of mood and personality, among other problems. It can affect a person's independence, family and work life, and the ability to participate fully in the community. Dr. Green's interests include mechanisms of the brain during short and long–term cognitive recovery following TBI.
Using MRI and neuropsychological techniques, her lab has found that in some people, there appears to be further damage to the brain after the initial injury, and that this corresponds to poorer recovery. This finding is consistent with the important, if troubling, observation made by her lab and a small number of other researchers: while some people retain their early gains, others aren't holding on to their initial recovery. While the knowledge that not all recovery is maintained may seem like a setback, Dr. Green believes that the information is invaluable.
"If we know that people are declining and why, then we can design treatments to avert decline and enhance recovery."
Her lab is making progress in both areas. Complicating the picture are the preliminary findings in her lab to suggest there is "competition" between recovery of cognitive and motor functions, whereby the more one of these areas recovers, the less the other one does. Competition may occur because injured parts of the brain have only limited neural resources to draw on to support recovery. Importantly, there's also evidence that new connections are being formed in the brain post-injury to support recovery.
"It may be that if we can undertake interventions that stimulate new growth of the brain, we can circumvent this competition problem and enhance recovery," explains Dr. Green. She is leading a study examining whether "intensifying" early therapy (i.e., providing more hours of all therapies, including therapies designed to specifically stimulate vulnerable brain regions) will both minimize competition and avert deterioration. She is also investigating whether benefits of therapy are permanent or whether stimulation must be continued to keep up the benefits.
Dr. Green is also working to develop new ways to detect mild brain injuries. She is taking a sensitive tool ("diffusion tensor imaging") that is currently used only experimentally for people with mild brain injury and developing a method to permit its use for clinical purposes. Other research areas include the dual diagnosis of spinal cord injury plus TBI, treatments for psychological symptoms of brain injury, and facial emotion perception deficits after TBI. The Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation devoted an entire edition last year to research conducted by Dr. Green and colleagues.
In 2000, the Government of Canada created a permanent program to establish 2000 research professorships Canada Research Chairs in eligible degree granting institutions across the country. (www.chairs-chaires.gc.ca)
Toronto Rehab is at the forefront of one of the most important and emerging frontiers in health care today — rehabilitation science. As a fully affiliated teaching and research hospital of the University of Toronto, Toronto Rehab is Canada's largest academic provider of adult rehabilitation services, complex continuing care and long-term care. Toronto Rehab is advancing rehabilitation knowledge and practice through research and education.
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