S.A. trauma research hub to launch with UT and Army funding

From brain injuries to blood transfusions, the San Antonio region will soon have a one-of-a-kind trauma research center that will generate knowledge that could save countless lives.

The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio plans to house the Trauma Research and Combat Casualty Care Collaborative, or TRC4, with the help of $2.5 million recently allocated by the UT System Board of Regents.

“Ultimately it’s going to be really great for trauma patients in San Antonio and locally and hopefully nationally,” said Dr. Susanna Nicholson, trauma surgeon and director of trauma research at University Hospital.

“Trauma is the leading cause of death for people under the age of 44, and the leading cause of death for children – highlighted by the recent tragic events in Uvalde,” Nicholson said. “So I think there’s a lot we can do together to improve trauma care for our patients, and we do that to advance research.”

Collaborative partners include University Health’s Level 1 Trauma Center at University Hospitals, the US Department of Defense, and University Health and existing local and regional partnerships with the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, or STRAC.

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The $2.5 million UT System investment will focus on establishing the center, with no more than 10 percent of the funds going toward overhead costs and the rest being used to support research that improves clinical care.

The US Army Institute of Surgical Research, or USAISR, has agreed to match these funds by providing $2.5 million worth of research equipment for the center. It has agreed to make its own research labs available to UT institutions. USAISR is based at Brooke Army Medical Center.

An advisory committee of researchers and leaders from across UT institutions, among other partners, will oversee TRC4, according to a presentation to UT regents. The associate is expected to submit annual progress reports.

Meetings among TRC4 partners began about a year and a half ago, Nicholson said, with a focus on creating a hub in San Antonio.

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He said the region is well-positioned for collaboration between health institutions with more than 20 years of experience, with Level 1 trauma centers at University Hospitals and Brooke Army Medical Center and a wide range of ongoing trauma research.

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Science is expected to expand through this collaboration, from burn and wound therapy to cold-stored whole blood research, pain-reduction treatments and the use of artificial intelligence for decision support to help improve reaction time and coordination.

“We’re doing a lot of research on traumatic brain injury, involving stem-cell research to help restore brain function,” Nicholson said. “That same technology could potentially be used for stroke patients.”

With an estimated 6 million patients in the U.S. suffering from trauma-related injuries and more than 1.2 million suffering burns each year, Nicholson said, the impact of the research effort will reach beyond San Antonio.

Creating this hub is expected to be an opportunity for students and faculty from 13 UT System schools to grow trauma research.

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“We’re hoping that this will serve as a foundation and a platform for further funding and research,” Nicholson said. “And as it grows, it will help fund more people to do research in these areas.”

When trauma occurs, there’s a tendency not to think of it as a regular health problem, he said. The research center could help change the way we look at trauma-related injuries to consider the long-term implications for patients and the health care system in general, Nicholson said.

“It’s really a health problem, because patients can stay in the hospital for a long time, they can suffer from infections, or many other systemic organ failures,” he said. “It’s a major cause of death for many people and a major cause of disability that can be a major strain on the health care system.”


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