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Dana Foundation Grant for Penn Medicine Researchers to Test Concussion Treatment for Athletes

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January 17, 2012, Volume 58, No. 17

Dr. Peter LeRoux, associate professor of neurosurgery in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, was awarded a three-year, $250,000 Dana Foundation Clinical Neuroscience grant, to conduct a study using branch chain amino acids to treat concussion in athletes.

This translational effort started in the basic science laboratory of Dr. Akiva S. Cohen, associate professor of neurology, neurosurgery and pediatrics at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In an animal model of brain injury, Dr. Cohen’s team found that feeding three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), specifically leucine, isoleucine and valine, to brain-injured animals could restore a proper balance of neurochemicals in the injured part of the brain and restore cognitive abilities after injury.

BCAAs are needed to produce two neurotransmitters—glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which function together to maintain an appropriate balance of brain activity. Glutamate excites neurons, stimulating them to fire, while GABA inhibits the firing. Too much excitement—or too little— and the brain doesn’t work properly. A traumatic abrain injury (TBI) upsets the balance.

With this grant, Dr. LeRoux and colleagues Dr. Cohen and Penn neurology resident Matthew Kirschen will continue investigation of dietary BCAAs in patients with sports-related concussions.

This is the first time that any faculty member in neurosurgery at Penn has received a grant from the Dana Foundation, the private philanthropic organization that supports clinical research in neuroscience and neuroimmunology and their interrelationship in human health and disease.

Almanac - January 17, 2012, Volume 58, No. 17