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Coleen M. Atkins, Ph.D.

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Being a member of the National Neurotrauma Society has been incredibly beneficial for my research in traumatic brain injury. My favorite perk of membership is the savings for attending the National Neurotrauma Symposium. At this meeting, I connect with collaborators and have the opportunity to present my research to leaders in the neurotrauma field. Every time I attend the meeting, I leave with helpful tips to improve on the methods that I am using in the laboratory.

Coleen M. Atkins

“At this last meeting, I met a student in Dr. Kathy Saatman’s laboratory who gave me tons of advice on how to use novel object recognition to evaluate learning deficits after TBI. I also loved the workshop held by Dr. Willie Stewart on human TBI pathology, who taught me the typical pathology in human TBI pathology and how it compares to the pathology in the model of TBI used in my laboratory.“
My laboratory research is inspired and motivated by the estimated 3 million people living with long-term disabilities due to traumatic brain injury (TBI). Cognition is impaired in the majority of TBI survivors for months to years after the initial brain trauma and there are currently no effective therapeutics to restore cognitive functioning in chronic TBI survivors. The goal of my laboratory research is to determine what changes in the brain that causes learning and memory deficits after TBI and to develop new treatment strategies to reverse these chronic learning and memory impairments. To accomplish this, we are partnering with pharmaceutical companies, clinical researchers at the University of Miami, and researchers at other institutions to develop pharmacological treatments. We have two major research projects in my laboratory. The first project is to evaluate the effects of phosphodiesterase inhibitors to increase cAMP levels in the brain. cAMP is a molecule known to be important for formation of long-term memory. Studies in my laboratory have found the cAMP is altered after TBI and we are testing whether boosting cAMP levels in the brain with a phosphodiesterase inhibitor will improve long-term memory. This project is an academic-industry collaboration between the University of Miami, West Virginia University, and Tetra Discovery Partners, and has already resulted in a shared patent with Tetra Discovery Partners for the use of a potent and selective phosphodiesterase 4B inhibitor as a treatment for TBI. The second research project in my laboratory is targeting the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor. Drugs that target acetylcholine are already being used for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. We are testing whether a drug that enhances acetylcholine receptor signaling in the brain will also improve learning and memory ability after TBI. This drug is already in clinical development for cognitive impairment associated with schizophrenia and we are evaluating whether this therapeutic can be re-purposed for chronic TBI. The ultimate vision and future impact of my research is to translate the findings from my preclinical TBI studies to develop a therapy that we can give to TBI survivors to improve chronic cognitive deficits.