Academics & Research / Winter 2017

Psychology, biology faculty team up to study brain injuries

Kim Gorgens, a clinical associate professor in DU’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology, has been making headlines for years for her research on traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her 2010 TEDxDU talk on youth sports concussions went viral, and she was involved in drafting and supporting the 2011 Jake Snakenberg Youth Concussion Act for the state of Colorado.

For her latest research project, Gorgens has partnered with Dan Linseman, an associate professor in DU’s Department of Biological Sciences, to study the impact of traumatic brain injuries on aging adults. Together, the researchers hope to uncover the reasons older adults take longer to recover from concussions—and why they suffer more severe consequences than younger people.

“Falls are a huge public health crisis and one of the leading causes of injuries among aging adults,” Gorgens says. “The more we can do about brain injury and reducing the severity, the greater improvement we can provide in terms of quality of life.”

The two theorize that some of the difference in age-dependent recovery is due to aging-related oxidative stress and the depletion of a critical antioxidant in the brain called glutathione. “We are testing a nutritional supplement in mice that will boost levels of glutathione,” Linseman says. “We want to see if we can make them recover more like a younger mouse.”

The project is funded by a pilot grant from DU’s new Knoebel Institute for Healthy Aging, which focuses on finding ways to increase the healthy years of life through interdisciplinary coursework, research and collaboration with community partners.

For the first phase of their TBI project, Gorgens and Linseman have partnered with Denver’s Craig Hospital, one of the country’s best hospitals for the rehabilitation of patients with spinal cord and brain injuries.

“If we are able to generate proof that levels of this particular antioxidant are different depending on age and severity of injury, then we can press forward for larger funding,” Gorgens says. “The hope is we can design interventional studies, perhaps a nutritional supplement, that people could take to reduce the severity of a brain injury.”

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