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We should all be of One Mind for Research

Posted by Chad O'Connor  December 17, 2012 11:00 AM

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I recently had the pleasure to meet the executive team for One Mind for Research at Swissnex, the Swiss Consulate of Boston. In this interview with the CEO General Pete Chiarelli (Ret.) we discuss some of the next steps for this crucial organization.

General Chiarelli recently served as the Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, where he was a tireless advocate for eliminating the stigma associated with Service Members and Veterans getting the help they need for the treatment of the invisible wounds of war.

One Mind for Research is a new-model non-profit organization that will take the lead role in the research, funding, marketing, and public awareness of mental illness and brain injury, by bringing together the governmental, corporate, scientific, and philanthropic communities in a concerted effort.

photo courtesy One Mind for Research
Gen. Chiarelli with Tom Hanks
The problem One Mind for Research addresses: Brain disorders affect more than 60 million Americans—that is more than one in four Americans suffering from mental illness or brain injury. From Autism and Alzheimer’s disease to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS), brain ailments cost the U.S. close to $1 trillion each year. Insufficient funding for research, slowness in developing new, effective treatments, and the extreme social stigma associated with brain disease and injury result in this being the biggest challenge to health care today.

JS: What was the impetus for the founding of One Mind for Research?

GC: My professional interest stemmed from my work in the US Army. Active duty service members and veterans need better forms of diagnostics and treatment for traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress (PTS). We know that TBI and PTS are associated with Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Yet more research needs to be done to better understand how these injuries and diseases are related and how they can be treated. In the US alone, approximately one trillion dollars is spent on brain injury and brain disease, yet many of the scientific advancements are in a stage of basic research.

JS: What are the brain diagnostic tools which are needed to address brain injury and disease? What new technologies must be developed?

GC: The holy grail of diagnostics for brain injury and disease is discrete blood biomarkers. This would allow healthcare providers to determine if a patient has post-traumatic stress (PTS), or a concussion, or some other injury based on an identified blood biomarker. Currently, a common standard method of testing is the Glasgow Coma Scale and Rancho Los Amigos Scale, but they are not very accurate. At this point we simply don’t have the requisite diagnostics or they are insufficiently specific.

JS: The One Mind for Research website notes how fragmented the funding and research efforts are in the government and corporate sectors. How can One Mind for Research change this status quo?

GC: Reforming the siloed nature of neuroscience research and funding for government and corporate research is at the core of our mission. We must prove that data sharing amongst researchers in post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury can benefit researchers in the short-term and long-term. New policies must be formed providing incentives for academic researchers to collaborate and new public/private partnerships must be launched with pharmaceutical and medical device companies to work well together. Note how a myriad of public and private organizations partnered to develop new treatments for AIDS; this is a success story we will model our work on.

JS: Two sectors of society that are especially afflicted by brain injury are the military and athletes; sometimes there is a social stigma in these communities regarding brain injury. How can One Mind for Research help change the social stigma of brain injury in these communities?

GC: We have to talk about these injuries and diseases; we especially can’t call them disorders. Sometimes they are genetic; sometimes it is due to an incident, athletic accident or the battlefield. It all comes down to educating the general public so we can focus more on appropriate treatment and reduce social stigma, it will be a constant effort of education and discussion.

JS: Please elaborate on the functionality of the Brain Data Exchange Portal, a key program of One Mind for Research.

GC: The Brain Data Exchange Portal will be a repository for sharing research information and data on brain injury and disease; it’s absolutely critical to our mission. We will include applications to allow scientists to mine this data. We hope our upcoming version 1.0 will be available by May 2013.

JS: One Mind for Research’s mission has been compared to the Apollo Mission to the Moon. An integral part of the Space Age was programs to encourage young people to get more involved in the natural sciences. How can your work catalyze youth participation in high school and college to increase the number of neuroscientists in the US and around the world?

GC: We hope that raising awareness and interest in studying neuroscience and related fields shall be a byproduct of our core mission.

John Henry Silva is a veteran of the US Marine Corps and founder of QuorumPR.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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