Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Discovering the impact of traumatic brain injury in the community, contact sports, active-duty military, and veterans.

The Need

There is much about traumatic brain injury (TBI) we have yet to understand. TBI increases the risk for dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and major depressive disorder. Furthermore, some individuals have higher resilience and increased recovery after injury, the underlying mechanisms of which are unknown. To evaluate how TBI contributes to neurological disease and individual response to injury, researchers at the University of Washington are studying donated brains from people who have experienced TBI through sports, military service, or other life events. The UW Traumatic Brain Injury Research studies aim to identify key mechanisms of injury and/or recovery that will lead to therapeutic development for those living with the devastating neurological consequences of TBI.

UW BRaIN TBI Research

  • State of the art brain tissue preservation maximizes each donation.
  • Ex-vivo diagnostic MRI imaging on every case.
  • Cutting-edge cellular and molecular analyses of brain tissues – in development and collaboration with the Allen Institute.
  • Neuropathologists with special expertise in TBI research.
  • Studies investigating a broad spectrum of TBI types including acute, chronic, blast and repetitive injuries.

UW BRaIN Lab TBI research studies include:

  • TRACK-TBI: Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in Traumatic Brain Injury, An International Traumatic Brain Injury Research Initiative
  • The Professional Fighters Brain Health Study at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health
  • Evaluation of Mild Long-term Outcome in Active-Duty US Military and Veterans (EVOLVE) at the University of Washington
  • The Late Effects of TBI (LETBI) at the Brain Injury Center of Mount Sinai
  • CONNECT-TBI: The Collaborative Neuropathology Network Characterizing Outcomes of TBI
  • University of Washington TBI Model System
  • The Pacific Northwest Brain Donor Network (PNBDN) at the University of Washington

One Family's Story

Each brain donation is a personal story — of loss and, hopefully, of learning. That was certainly the case for Bob and Linda Dahl.

When their son Matthew was just five years old, he suffered a serious head injury after falling from a second-story window. He was in a coma for a period of time, but remarkably recovered to live a healthy and happy life through adolescence. However, at age 19, Matt began to struggle. He insisted something wasn’t right with his brain. All three of them thought there might be a link to his earlier head injury. He and his family went through cycles of disappointment as they searched for treatment options. After a brave five-year fight with what was diagnosed as depression, Matthew Dahl took his own life at age 24.

In search of answers, Bob and Linda donated his brain to the UW BRaIN Lab. Neuropathology evaluation found serious contusions and signs of old hemorrhage from his childhood injury. An MRI of Matt’s brain also revealed injury deep into the white matter connecting the front of his brain, far away from the main contusion. The Dahls found this news validating. More than anything, they hope that what BRaIN investigators learn from their son’s brain will help someone else’s child who may experience a TBI.

The ultimate goal of traumatic brain injury research is to understand how brain cells are damaged by injury in order to create therapeutics that can repair and prevent the damage from progressing. Someday if a boy falls on his head, we will have ways to prevent the suffering that Matt and his family experienced.

2020.10 UW Medicine: Matt’s parents, Bob and Linda, along with C. Dirk Keene, MD, PhD, and his team at the UW Biorepository and Integrated Neuropathology (BRaIN) Laboratory are fighting to find answers and honor Matt’s legacy.