New SF Neuroscience Research Effort Will Help Troops and Veterans

December 07, 2005
News Office: Steve Tokar (415) 502-6397

The San Francisco VA Medical Center, the Department of Defense, and the Northern California Institute for Research and Education have joined together to establish a new SFVAMC Neuroscience Center of Excellence.

The goal of the Center is to investigate new approaches to diagnosing and treating neurological injuries and illnesses suffered by US military personnel - particularly fighters stationed in the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters of war- as well as veterans and the general public.

Research will be a collaborative effort involving a range of scientific disciplines.

"This is the only joint VA-DOD program with a neuroscience focus in the United States," observed Dr. Michael Weiner, director of the Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Disease at SFVAMC and the principal investigator of the overall research program. "We expect that the results of our research will lead to improvements in the neurological and mental health of active duty war fighters, post-active duty veterans, and the general population." Weiner is also professor of radiology, medicine, psychiatry, and neurology at UCSF.

The 19 principal investigators at the Center, whose research grants are administered by NCIRE, will conduct research on topics including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Gulf War Illness, brain and spinal cord injury, wound healing, bladder dysfunction, and other combat-related neurological injuries and syndromes. Projects represent a spectrum of investigation ranging from basic laboratory science to clinical diagnosis and treatment.

"The Neuroscience Center of Excellence is clearly on a trajectory to provide national leadership in neurological health and treatment," predicted Col. Karl Friedl, commander of the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, which is funding the work of the Center. "This research program is beautifully focused on issues of great importance to soldiers returning from current deployments and veterans of all eras."

Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said in a letter of support, "I am pleased to see this collaboration between NCIRE, the San Francisco VA Medical Center, and the Department of Defense. We ask much of our fighting men and women, and it is only fitting that we do our very best to care for them when they expose themselves to the hazards of combat."

A congratulatory letter from Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) addressed SFVAMC researchers, saying, "Your fine work on posttraumatic stress disorder and other areas is of critical importance to veterans who have courageously served our country."

Sheila Cullen, SFVAMC Medical Center Director, said, "This important collaborative effort brings together the very best in VA and DOD. I am immensely proud that SFVAMC will play a leading role in this endeavor."

The Neuroscience Center of Excellence research topics and principal investigators are:

* Promoting brain cell regrowth and suppressing scarring after traumatic brain injury - Lilly Y.W. Bourguignon, career scientist, SFVAMC and professor of medicine, UCSF.

* Measuring changes in brain anatomy during the course of PTSD - Valerie Cardenas-Nicolson, staff researcher, SFVAMC and assistant adjunct professor of radiology, UCSF.

* Measuring blood-oxygen level dependent response as a possible biomarker for PTSD - Linda Chao, assistant research scientist, SFVAMC and associate adjunct professor of radiology and psychiatry, UCSF.

* A potential new treatment for tinnitus in military personnel - Dr. Steven W. Cheung, staff physician, SFVAMC and associate professor of otolaryngology, UCSF.

* A potential new treatment for bladder dysfunction resulting from spinal cord injury - Rajvir Dahiya, research scientist, SFVAMC and professor of urology, UCSF.

* New approaches to overcoming stress-induced delays in wound healing - Dr. Peter Elias, staff physician, SFVAMC and professor of dermatology, UCSF.

* Using MRI and diffusion tensor imaging to measure changes in the brain in post-concussion syndrome - Dr. Grant Gauger, staff physician, SFVAMC and clinical professor of neurological surgery, UCSF.

* Potential methods for predicting injury in US Army warfighters - Dr. C. Seth Landefeld, staff physician and associate chief of staff of geriatrics and extended care, SFVAMC and professor of medicine, epidemiology, and biostatistics, UCSF.

* Promoting brain cell regeneration and functional recovery after traumatic brain injury - Jialing Liu, research fellow, SFVAMC and associate professor of neurological surgery, UCSF.

* The effectiveness of DCS, a potential new pharmaceutical treatment for PTSD - Dr. Charles Marmar, staff physician and associate chief of staff of mental health, SFVAMC and professor and vice chair of psychiatry, UCSF.

* Potential new pharmacological treatments for brain and spinal cord injury- Dr. Stephen Massa, staff physician, SFVAMC and clinical assistant professor of neurology, UCSF.

* The role of the neurotransmitters GABA and glutamine in PTSD Dieter Meyerhoff, senior researcher, SFVAMC and professor of radiology, UCSF.

* Possible effects of pesticide exposure in the Persian Gulf theater of war - S. Scott Panter, research chemist/physiologist, SFVAMC and adjunct assistant professor of neurological surgery, UCSF.

* Potential new pharmacological treatments for arterial and muscle injury on the battlefield - Dr. Rajabrata Sarkar, staff physician, SFVAMC and assistant professor of surgery, UCSF.

* Using new MRI techniques to detect and diagnose Parkinson's disease in veterans and others -Norbert Schuff, senior scientist, SFVAMC and associate professor of radiology, UCSF;

* The relationship between PTSD and alcohol abuse in veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan - Dr. Karen Seal, staff physician, SFVAMC and adjunct assistant professor of medicine, UCSF;

* Investigating the role of TREM-2, a cell-surface receptor, in inflammatory response after brain injury - Dr. William Seaman, staff physician and Chief of Immunology, SFVAMC and professor of medicine and microbiology/immunology, UCSF;

* Promoting growth of neurons by suppressing inflammation after brain injury Dr. Raymond Swanson, staff physician and Chief of Neurology and Rehabilitation Service, SFVAMC and professor and vice chair of neurology, UCSF;

* Investigating changes in the brain associated with Gulf War Illness- Dr. Michael Weiner, Director of the Center for Imaging of Neurodegenerative Disease, SFVAMC and professor of radiology, medicine, psychiatry, and neurology, UCSF.

An NCIRE publication describing the Center and its current research projects in greater detail can be downloaded at

SFVAMC has the largest medical research program in the national VA system, with over 200 research scientists, all of whom are faculty members at UCSF.

NCIRE is the largest research institute associated with a VA medical center, and ranks 16th among independent research institutes in support received from the National Institutes of Health.

UCSF is a leading university that consistently defines health care worldwide by conducting advanced biomedical research, educating graduate students in the life sciences, and providing complex patient care.

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