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Blending of testing methods could lead to better life for UT Arlington veterans

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Friday, April 8, 2011

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Media Contact: Herb Booth, Office:817-272-7075, Cell:214-546-1082, hbooth@uta.edu

ARLINGTON - Social work and bioengineering professors at The University of Texas at Arlington are collaborating on research they think will lead to better treatment for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Alexa Smith-Osborne, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work, and Hanli Liu, a bioengineering professor, are marrying their methods of evaluating PTSD and TBI to better serve veterans who suffer from those conditions.

Lin Li, Matthew Cloud, Alexa Smith-Osborne, and Hanli Liu

Lin Li, a doctoral student in bioengineering, sits with the brain scanner attached to his head as another doctoral bioengineering student, Matthew Cloud, and Alexa Smith-Osborne, assistant professor in social work, listen to bioengineering associate professor Hanli Liu, far right, explain how the machine operates.

The veterans research is just one of many collaborative, multi-disciplinary projects calling the new Engineering Research Building home. The 234,000-square-foot facility is shared mainly by College of Engineering and College of Science researchers who are exploring new cancer treatments, working to improve detection of deadly viruses and developing systems to help older adults live independently longer, among a multitude of projects.

Smith-Osborne started the Student Veteran Project at UT Arlington. It is a clinical intervention trial that offers free services to help veterans returning to school.

Some veterans were experiencing learning difficulties that could be associated with the interactive effects of PTSD and TBI, as well as prior learning disabilities and co-occurring conditions such as pain, Smith-Osborne said.

“They were also having delays and difficulty in obtaining prior educational records and updated comprehensive cognitive and educational assessments,” Smith-Osborne said. “Scarcity of health resources may limit the availability of such assessments to the most severely injured veterans served in polytrauma centers.”

Smith-Osborne has set up a private donor fund to help student veterans pay for such assessments when they can be provided privately, since they are typically not covered by health insurance.

“I’m already utilizing a range of measures to assess issues affecting veterans’ learning,” Smith-Osborne said. “However, they are standardized, observational and self-report measures. I had been looking for low-cost ways to add physiological data, as well as to provide veterans with more input that would help them select effective learning strategies while they are waiting to receive their other records and services.”

That’s where Hanli Liu enters the research picture with her brain-scanning device in bioengineering.

“We decided we could get a much better picture of where the veterans are if Alexa’s measures could be combined with our scanning and mapping of the brain and the cognitive tests they complete during brain scanning,” Liu said. “We are the only university (that they know of in the world) that has three of the optical imaging machines.”

Liu said the brain-scanning device is much easier to use and less costly than using a functional MRI machine when the patient could spend about 40 minutes in a tube.

The duo hopes to provide veterans with a better baseline on where they are in learning. They hope that information also could provide the Veterans Administration and health-care providers with needed information on how to address these veterans’ cases of PTSD or TBI.

“We hope it leads to policy changes to expand these types of resources for veterans,” Smith-Osborne said. “Rapid advances now occurring in cognitive science need to be translated to practical applications which people can use to reach their life goals.”

Smith-Osborne said that in addition to supporting educational success for veterans, the research could help auto accident victims or others who have sustained head injuries.

This collaborative research is an example of the kind of research that takes place at The University of Texas at Arlington, a comprehensive undergraduate and graduate research institution of nearly 33,000 students in the heart of North Texas. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.

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