CHOP Researcher Highlights Pediatric Brain Injury Research, Prevention in House Testimony

03/19/2012

Flaura K. Winston, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention (CIRP) at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, recently told a House committee that, despite advances in preventing and treating traumatic brain injury, “we’re just beginning to understand the biomechanics of brains.”

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of injury-related death in children, causing more than 6,000 deaths and hospitalizing 60,000 children and adolescents every year. “Each day more than 125 children die or are hospitalized with a TBI caused by largely preventable events – such as car crashes and sports- with high costs to families and to society,” according to Dr. Winston.

In addition to being the founder of CIRP, Dr. Winston’s pioneering research has focused on preventing child occupant and teen driver deaths and injuries in motor vehicle crashes. On March 19 along with several other TBI experts, Dr. Winston testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. The hearing was held to give committee members a chance to assess the state of TBI prevention, treatment, recovery, related research and federal efforts to address TBI.

Saying that the “brain is the organ that is least able to heal,” Dr. Winston stressed the need for continued research to prevent and treat pediatric brain injuries. “New and improved child-focused strategies will only emerge from investments in basic and translational biomechanical, behavioral, and medical research to inform new safety products and their testing,” Dr. Winston said.

However, she added, while many pediatric brain injuries are preventable, the science behind treating those injuries that do occur is limited, because most research has focused on adults. “Children are not small adults,” Dr. Winston explained.

Indeed, recent developments have led researchers to question the traditional belief that children are more resilient than adults. For example, researchers have seen a connection between an increase in disabilities and mild TBI in teenagers, Dr. Winston said.

Noting that federal funding has been “crucial” to brain injury research, Dr. Winston called on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other agencies to continue to invest in TBI research. “We need to build up our scientific foundation,” Dr. Winston said.

The costs of TBI were also raised during the hearing. On average, the yearly cost of children dying from TBI is $29 billion and $53 billion for those who are hospitalized,” Dr. Winston testified, adding that the average medical cost for children hospitalized with TBI is $40,000.

“That’s a lot of helmets,” Dr. Winston said.