A £9.5m research platform announced by the Medical Research Council (MRC) is set to transform the way survivors of traumatic brain injury are diagnosed and treated in the UK. This UK-wide collaboration will build on the successes of Dementias Platform UK (DPUK) and others.
Traumatic brain injury, or TBI, is a leading cause of death and disability in people under 40 in the UK and can cause a range of serious and lifelong health issues for people who survive, including dementia, epilepsy and poor mental health.
Until now, data collected by individual research projects investigating TBI has rarely been used outside the original study, even though it provides a potentially rich resource for understanding TBI and advancing its clinical care. This lack of coordinated use of data has slowed progress in treating and caring for people experiencing TBI.
To address this, the MRC, the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), the Ministry of Defence and Alzheimer’s Research UK are jointly funding this initiative to establish a UK-wide research platform, TBI-REPORTER, which will be led by the University of Cambridge.
TBI-REPORTER will bring together leading experts from across the UK to enable research into TBI, including concussion, and across the lifespan from children to older ages. It will also support research in previously under studied populations, including prisoners, homeless people and victims of domestic violence.
To do this, TBI-REPORTER will collaborate with Health Data Research UK, NHS and population-based UK research, such as UK Biobank and Dementias Platform UK, to bring together rich datasets from existing studies in TBI. It will also coordinate research data collection and clinical studies going forward, and all of this will be made available to UK and international researchers to accelerate research in TBI and its impact on lifelong health.
The hope is that this will lead to more people being treated effectively as doctors are able to better predict how a certain injury is likely to affect a patient with TBI and offer them individualised care.
The platform will also assist academic and industrial partners to develop better diagnostic tests and treatments for TBI. To facilitate this, the TBI-REPORTER platform will establish a network of research-ready NHS specialist neuroscience hospitals primed to trial innovative ways of diagnosing and treating TBI.
Brain injury survivor James Piercy said: “As one of the estimated 1 million people living with the results of a traumatic brain injury, I welcome this new initiative which promises to improve diagnosis and treatment of TBI: the ‘hidden disability’.”
Project lead Professor David Menon, Head of the Division of Anaesthesia at the University of Cambridge, said: “It is a privilege to lead this ambitious platform, which brings together a breadth of experts and draws on the lived experience of TBI survivors and their families, to improve care of traumatic brain injury. We also believe that our work, in combination with that of international partners, will re-energise drug development in TBI and deliver new treatments for patients.”
Professor John Iredale, Executive Chair of the MRC, part of UKRI, added: “We recognise the devastating impacts traumatic brain injury can have for its survivors and those who care for them, and are determined to improve the status quo. This award will capitalise on the UK’s unique scientific strengths to see research into TBI accelerated on a scale not seen before. This will lead to the discoveries we need to give survivors of TBI all around the world a much more hopeful future.”
Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Over a million people in the UK are living with long-term symptoms of a traumatic brain injury, and evidence suggests that exposure to such an injury can increase dementia risk. At Alzheimer’s Research UK, we believe it is only by bringing people from different backgrounds together through collaborative approaches that we’ll begin to solve the major challenges in treatment and diagnosis of TBIs. The TBI-REPORTER programme will be fundamental in improving our understanding of how brain injury contributes to dementia risk so we can prevent dementia in the future.”
Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Chloe Smith said: “Traumatic brain injuries are a leading cause of death and disability in people under 40 in the UK and survivors often endure a lifetime of physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges.
“This funding will bring together leading experts and support studies into the long-term consequences of traumatic brain injuries, allowing researchers to identify patterns and develop tailored treatments, with the potential of saving and massively improving the lives of those with such injuries. It is yet another example of how the UK’s science sector is improving treatment and health outcomes for Britons across the country.”
TBI-REPORTER represents a collaboration of leading institutions from across the UK, and will be coordinated by the Universities of Cambridge, Glasgow and Sheffield, Imperial College London, and Swansea University. It also includes close engagement with the public, patients, and their families through the United Kingdom Acquired Brain Injury Forum (UKABIF).
Built to an international information security standard, the DPUK Data Portal is powered by Secure eResearch Platform (SeRP) and based within Population Data Science at Swansea University. DPUK ensures that every participant's data is stored securely whilst also enabling bona fide researchers to access the information they need to advance our understanding of diseases like Alzheimer's.
By bringing together over 40 of the UK’s existing population studies, DPUK is creating the world’s largest study group for use in dementias research. Whole-body data on such large numbers of people brings enormous statistical power to studies about what happens to our bodies as we age, and the DPUK Data Portal gives researchers rapid access to this rich data.