College hosts Winter Forum, shares innovations in cardiovascular research and the study of traumatic brain injuries

 There is incredible innovation and growth taking place at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. To share and celebrate recent highlights, Carol R. Bradford, MD, MS, FACS, dean of the Ohio State College of Medicine, hosted a Winter Forum on Feb. 8.Winter Forum

“Our faculty have made amazing clinical innovations, and their dedication to solving the world’s toughest health care challenges is truly inspiring,” ,” Dr. Bradford said. “I was delighted to host a few of our outstanding faculty who are conducting research that has the potential transform countless lives.”

During the forum, Dr. Bradford highlighted the innovative work of College of Medicine faculty who are studying the long-term implications of stress on cardiovascular health and also the critical research taking place to create leading-edge treatments for traumatic brain injuries (TBI). She also announced the 13 winners of the inaugural Dean's Excellence Awards; they will be celebrated formally at an awards gala in March.

Stress impact on cardiovascular health and our microbiomes

Tamar Gur, MD, PhD, associate professor of Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Obstetrics and Gynecology, Joshua Joseph, MD, associate professor of Internal Medicine, and Loren Wold, PhD, professor of Surgery at the Ohio State College of Medicine shared their work to determine if stress affects heart health through changes in gut bacteria and whether exercise can provide protection.

They discussed their ongoing $4.3 million research project as part of a multi-university effort funded by the American Heart Association. This work, led by Kristin Stanford, PhD, professor of Surgery at the Ohio State College of Medicine, will evaluate how stress impacts cardiovascular disease through changes in gut bacteria and how exercise can play a role in protection.

Dr. Gur shared that while their group is learning more and more about psychosocial stress and how it connects to the human microbiome, the study of stress and its impact on cardiovascular health is still in its infancy.

“What we’re looking to do is think about how, across the lifespan, stress can really increase your personal risk for developing cardiovascular illness,” Dr. Gur said.

Dr. Wold elaborated on the overall purpose of the study, saying "the mission is to design ways for patients to live longer, healthier lives and to improve cardiovascular health across lifespans." 

Dr. Joseph’s work is helping to reduce the amount of time it takes for  research to move from the patient bedside to the laboratory and back to effective patient treatment. With an interdisciplinary team of scientists and community partners from Ohio State and across Columbus, Dr. Joseph is leading Black Impact 100, a study that has made great progress in investigating why African American men have the shortest life expectancy of any racial gender group. Through Black Impact 100, they are already improving the health of this special population.

“We collaborated with men in a 24-week pilot program that reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease and reduced stress through exercise and fellowship,” Dr. Joseph said. “This is a community effort to raise awareness of preventable diseases.”

Hope for the 1.5 million Americans who experience TBI each year

Ohio State has been a leader in TBI research and treatment for decades. Researchers are currently in the middle of a seven-year, $16 million, multicenter project known as CARE 4 TBI, which is comparing inpatient rehabilitation treatments for traumatic brain injuries to determine the specific approaches that can optimize patient outcomes.

Cynthia Beaulieu, PhD, clinical associate professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Jennifer Bogner, PhD, professor and the Bert C. Wiley, MD, Chair in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Kathryn Hyzak, PhD, a Provost’s Fellow-to-Assistant-Professor Research Faculty in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Ohio State College of Medicine all shared their expertise on this topic.

One important aspect of the CARE 4 TBI project focuses on standardizing electronic medical record to support the creation of a learning health system that will ultimately help identify factors that modify the effect of rehabilitation therapy on key outcomes.

“We have created the world’s largest longitudinal database of TBI members with 20,000 members enrolled now,” Dr. Beaulieu said. “It is embedded into 14 other TBI model systems across the county.”

The Ohio Regional TBI Model System provides brain injury care and rehabilitation to assist individuals with returning home or re-entering their community. It is the longest continuously funded TBI Model System in the country, and Dr. Bogner serves as the principal investigator. 

In 2023, Dr. Bogner and co-PI John Corrigan, PhD, professor emeritus of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, shared a critical discovery after analyzing more than 25 years of data. Specifically, they found that TBIs need to be treated as dynamic and chronic, requiring ongoing resources and care.

“We need to be there for patients as they continue to change so we can help them optimize their outcomes,” Dr Bogner said.

As the team’s new implementation scientist, Dr. Hyzak explained how her work is creating neurologic-informed care for patients. Through her research, she is identifying how existing programs, policies and clinical practices should be updated  to improve patient outcomes and increase state-funded support.

“This includes more individualized care that meets specific needs for patients,” Dr. Hyzak said. “This way what we learn from each patient can make it better for the next patient.”

Dr. Bradford ended the forum with an important reminder of how the innovative research taking place in the College of Medicine is transforming the health of our communities.

“This work pays it forward,” Dr. Bradford said. “And it shows that the work we do together matters.”