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Brain Injury & Repair Division Overview

Physicians and scientists in the Brain Injury and Repair Division are performing cutting-edge research to develop new and better methods to diagnose and treat injuries to the nervous system and are testing novel interventions to allow for better and faster recovery.

brain scanDivision Director:
William Brooks, PhD

Associate Director: 
Jeff Radel, PhD

"We are making innovative discoveries that may soon lead to the restoration of lost function. Our ultimate goal is to repair the structure of the brain and spinal cord to return individuals to normal neurological function."

Brain and spinal cord injuries can occur at any age and often result in permanent disability. As we age, certain kinds of brain injuries, such as those associated with stroke, are much more frequent; the likelihood of stroke doubles with each decade after the age of 50. 

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in America with 750,000 new cases each year.

Spinal cord injury occurs in nearly 15,000 individuals per year in the United States, leaving about 10,000 permanently paralyzed.

Each year, U.S. emergency departments treat an estimated 173,285 sports- and recreation-related TBIs, including concussions, among children and adolescents, from birth to 19 years.

Unique programs in brain injury and repair at KUMC

KUMC investigators are recognized worldwide for their basic research in brain injury and repair. Physicians and scientists in the Brain Injury and Repair Division are performing cutting-edge research to develop new and better methods to diagnose and treat injuries to the nervous system, and are testing novel interventions to allow for better and faster recovery.  

  • Novel drug treatments are being developed to protect the brain from further damage after an injury occurs.
  • New exercise and physiotherapy interventions are being tested in clinical trials.
  • Partnering with scientists in engineering and computer science, KUMC scientists are developing next-generation brain implants for directly repairing brain circuits.
  • Basic scientists and physicians work closely together to make breakthroughs in brain repair strategies that will make the most difference in improving quality of life for patients with brain injuries.

A significant opportunity exists to have a major impact on the long-term morbidity and cost of brain injury conditions. KUMC is well poised to take advantage of this opportunity with more than a dozen faculty members from various departments receiving international recognition for their work on aspects of brain injury and recovery of function.

Another strength of our research in this field is the use of state-of-the-art non-invasive imaging capabilities at the Hoglund Brain Imaging Center to help us understand and facilitate brain plasticity in human stroke survivors.


Time is critical! Or some physicians say, "Time is brain!" Treatment options depend on how quickly the individual is treated after the stroke. Clot-busting drugs can be very effective with a stroke caused by a blood clot, but only in the first few hours after stroke. Effective treatments exist for acute management of stroke, but treatment approaches for long-term management focusing on recovery of function are much less well established.

  • IND research: Brain Injury and Repair Division investigators are well known for innovative research on stroke recovery. Our clinicians are constantly developing novel clinical trials for individuals suffering from disability after stroke. Using state-of-the-art brain imaging techniques, our investigators have described the basic neural processes that allow the brain to recover after stroke in animal models and human stroke survivors.

Become educated about factors contributing to concussions in different sports, in boys and girls, and the implications of repeated concussions. Consider evidence-based resources such as the CDC's Head's Up! program rather than relying only on news media or single-case anecdotes, and encourage coaches and other parents to become educated about recognizing signs and symptoms of concussion.

  • IND research: Our basic scientists are on the cutting edge of understanding the brain's response to traumatic injuries, and these scientific advances will soon lead to new therapies for treating brain injury. The IND is part of a campus-wide effort to provide rapid and uniform interdisciplinary clinical management of concussions, to enhance parent awareness and appropriate coaching practices through community education, and to investigate factors that may limit frequency or severity of concussion symptoms. Ongoing studies among middle school students, high school students, and adult women playing full-contact football are examining the reliability and feasibility of different tests for screening concussion symptoms during practices or competitions, and the role of visual information in balance abilities after concussion. Studies now being developed will explore strategies for monitoring and predicting the trajectory of post-concussion recovery as an aid to planning rehabilitation strategies, and for guiding decisions about return to school or work and about return to play. Our findings will help to maintain the health of uninjured people, promote insightful management of injured people irrespective of the cause of their concussion, and will yield locally derived evidence in support of our educational programs.

Research into spinal cord repair has advanced tremendously over the past two decades. Beneficial effects of various treatments have been shown in many animal models. But the injured spinal cord is still a hostile environment when it comes to regeneration of injured fibers, and spinal cord repair remains extremely challenging. Some ambulatory function can recover with the help of physiotherapy, at least in individuals with incomplete spinal cord injury.

  • IND research: Our investigators are seeking new ways to boost recovery after spinal cord injury by developing novel treatments in experimental animal models. Current approaches include neuroprotective treatments, enhancement of fiber regeneration, electrophysiological manipulation of residual circuits, transplantation of stem cells, and rehabilitative training. IND investigators work closely with clinician specialists in spinal cord injury who are part of the Marc Asher Comprehensive Spine Center at KU Hospital. This close collaboration between basic scientists and clinicians will ensure that new treatments coming out of the laboratory will have the best chance of being applied to patient populations in the future.
Institute for Neurological Discoveries