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A Journey to the Center of the Brain: New York Neurologist Wants to Understand What Happens When We Get Hit in the Head

GE Reports—September 22, 2014

Hilary Monaco has a black belt in Taekwondo, and she can take a few punches. When her sparring partner landed a hard kick to her head during practice last fall, she didn’t think much of it.

Two weeks later, she advanced to the final round of a big tournament and received another hit to the head. But this time, her body served her a severe warning. “The next day I couldn’t stand up, I was dizzy, and couldn’t focus or look at a computer screen without getting a splitting headache,” Monaco says. Her friends rushed her to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with a concussion.

Monaco, who is 25 years old and a graduate student of computational biology at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and Cornell University in New York, naturally worried about her brain and also about her ability to remain active in her favorite sport. She sought out Dr. Teena Shetty, a neurologist at Manhattan’s Hospital for Special Surgery, and a neuro-trauma consultant for the New York Mets and the New York Giants.

Shetty has been on a mission to learn more about traumatic brain injuries, diagnose and treat them faster, and reduce their long-term consequences. She says that concussions are notoriously difficult to diagnose objectively even with the latest medical equipment like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Her research is driven by a real need, she says. “There is a lot of awareness of concussions, but we still don’t have an optimal tool to see them.”

In 2013, Shetty launched a unique research program at her hospital looking for telltale biomarkers in the brain, including microbleeds and changes in water movement in the brain. They could help doctors get better at diagnosing concussions, selecting the right therapy, and improving treatment outcomes for patients.

Shetty is still seeking to enroll more people into the program. “I would like to have as much data as possible to work with,” she says. She is looking for patients between the ages of 15 and 50, who had an acute concussion less than 10 days ago.

The project is sponsored by the Head Health Initiative, a partnership between GE and the NFL. It has two goals: Help doctors find links between physical symptoms and changes in the brain that can be detected by medical technology like MRI. GE also plans to use the findings to build better MRI machines.

This story originally appeared at gereports.com.


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