U.S. Proposal for Brain Research Echoes International Call to Reduce the Burden of TBI

Brain scan imagesLast week, President Obama called for $110 million to fund a brain-mapping study, akin to the human genome project. The President said he will include the funding for the “Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies” (BRAIN) Initiative, in his 2014 budget. Already underway at the National Institutes of Health, it’s hoped that the BRAIN Initiative will eventually yield methods of treating, preventing and curing traumatic brain injury as well as disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism and epilepsy.

For traumatic brain injury this initiative has the potential to:

a) Advance our knowledge of the mechanisms of brain injury and recovery, and;

b) Help develop better diagnostic tools and treatments for brain injury.

This is one of several key international investments into traumatic brain injury research. The Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), in collaboration with the European Commission (EC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has set up the International Initiative for Traumatic Brain Injury Research (InTBIR). Established in 2011, this initiative aims to advance clinical traumatic brain injury research, treatment and care in order to “improve outcomes and lessen the global burden of traumatic brain injury by 2020.”

TBI is the leading cause of disability in individuals under the age of 45. The annual incidence of TBI is 500 per 100,000 people in North America and Europe and is steadily increasing due to an increased number of motor vehicle accidents, particularly in low- and middle- income countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that deaths from road traffic incidents (primarily due to TBI) will double between 2000 and 2020 and TBI will rise to the third leading cause of global mortality and disability by 2020 (WHO, 2009).

Not only does TBI have devastating effects on survivors and their loved ones, but also results in high socio-economic costs to society. As a result TBI has become one of the priorities in the national research agendas of many countries.


Impaired facial affect recognition as a result of TBI

Impaired facial affect recognition appears to be a significant problem for survivors of traumatic brain injury. These difficulties can be partially attributed to problems with emotion perception. Mounting scientific evidence shows facial affect recognition to be particularly difficult after TBI. Facial affect recognition is achieved by interpreting important facial features and processing one’s own emotions. These skills are often affected by TBI, depending on the areas of the brain that are damaged. Impaired facial affect recognition can present a huge challenge for many people after traumatic brain injury (TBI), resulting in problems with communication and social relationships.

A study published in Neuropsychology has attempted to estimate the magnitude and frequency of this problem. Scientists conducted a meta-analysis of existing scientific evidence examining the magnitude and frequency of facial recognition difficulties after TBI. This was calculated from 13 studies (296 adults) comparing adults with moderate to severe TBI to healthy controls on static measures of facial affect recognition. Based on this data, they were able to estimate that 13-39% of people with moderate to severe TBI may have significant difficulties with facial affect recognition.

This area clearly needs more attention, particularly in examining possible rehabilitation techniques for this deficit. Impaired facial affect recognition is one of many problems faced by survivors of TBI. It is important that survivors, their families and friends are educated about this and other impairments.

“Meta-analysis of facial affect recognition difficulties after traumatic brain injury”
in Neuropsychology (2011) . By DR Babbage, J Yim, B Zupan, D Neumann, MR Tomita and B Willer.