Learn More

Traumatic Brain Injury

The neurological disorder of primary focus in our laboratory is traumatic brain injury (TBI), a significant source of death and disability globally. A series of large population studies reveal a TBI incidence of 823.7 per 100,000 people in the United States. The CDC reported over 223,000 TBI-related hospitalizations in 2019 and over 69,000 TBI-related deaths in 2021. Currently, there are no medications or procedures that can cure or completely mitigate the effects of TBI. 

The majority of modern treatments for TBI have been designed under the assumption that the brain is the main target for TBI pathology; although, an increasing line of evidence indicates that TBI pathology involves body organs as well as the brain. In order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the pathology of traumatic brain injury, it is imperative to understand the connections between the brain and the body. Therefore, our current research focuses on the usage of dietary supplements and exercise to restrict the advancement of negative effects of traumatic brain injury. 

Our lab performs fluid percussion injury on rats and mice to model TBI; this type of procedure creates an effect similar to that of a sports injury. We study mild to moderate injury levels and their subsequent effects on brain and body function.

Exploring the Body-Brain Connection

How does the brain affect the body?’  Instead of succumbing to this mainstream mentality, our laboratory seeks to understand how the body affects the brain. This novel way of thinking has been the guide by which we have conducted our most recent studies; we seek to find answers in this barely explored avenue of neuroscience crossed with biology. Our most recent studies support the validity of the idea of ‘body affects brain’. In one of our 2023 published papers, we investigated the relationship between the liver and the brain in regard to traumatic brain injury. We entered into this study with the goal of understanding how brain injuries and fructose impact the liver and how that ultimately impacts the brain. We discovered that the thyroid hormone (T4) helped improve the liver’s metabolism in response to fructose and brain injuries; T4 reduced the production of harmful lipids, improved glucose processing, made the liver more sensitive to insulin, and reduced inflammation in the liver and bloodstream. Additionally, T4 helped restore the metabolism of a fatty acid, DHA, in the liver, which is essential for brain health. The findings of this study support our thought process of ‘body impacts brain’ and sparks further interest in understanding how the liver works as a gate for the regulation of the effects of brain injury and foods on brain pathologies.

The success of this study in the aspect that it upholds our conviction of ‘body impacts brain’ fueled our passion for pursuing this belief and uncovering additional information surrounding it. We believe that additional comprehension of the interdependent relationship between the body and the brain will aid our understanding of the pathology of neurological disorders and eventually lead to more effective treatment for those disorders.

What is Our Gut’s Connection with Our Brain

The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional communication link that connects the enteric and central nervous systems, allowing the brain to affect activities within the gut and vice versa. So, when the gut is experiencing complications, the gut-brain axis allows the negative condition of the gut to detrimentally impact an individual’s mental health and cognition. The studying of the gut-brain axis closely correlates with our interest in body-brain communication and our belief of ‘body impacts brain’. Thus, our current investigations regarding this topic centers around severing the connections between the brain and liver, through the portal vein, and then observing the consequent impacts of TBI. We hope that the severance of the gut-brain axis can reduce the effects of TBI on the body.

Exercise for the Brain

Exercise is an activity that not only improves one’s physical health but also one’s mental health. Exercise increases activity in the frontal cortex region of a human’s brain, a region that is critical for higher-order thinking and decision-making. Additionally, exercise also stimulates the hippocampal region of the brain, which is involved in long-term memory and learning. Our current research focuses on how exercise, combined with diet control, can positively impact the brain. Our findings suggest that exercise increases plasticity in both injured and uninjured nervous systems.

Brain Foods


(Economist, 2008)

Our lab studies the effects of diet on the brain. We have found that high-fat and high-sugar diets have the potential to lead to increased anxiety. Additionally, high-fat diets promote metabolic dysfunction and cognitive alterations as well as increase oxidative stress in the brain, reduce neurogenesis, enhance neuroinflammation, and heighten anxiety-like behavior.

Effects of Sugar on the Brain

Fructose is one of the most important naturally occurring sugars in nature, commonly found in fruits, vegetables, and honey. Because of its inherent sweetness, it is often used as a sweetener in various food products and beverages. Our lab’s study was the first to show how a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain, disrupting memory and learning. Our concern with fructose is not in regards to natural foods (fruit and vegetables) but instead to high-fructose corn syrup, which is commonly found in manufactured foods. We uncovered that excessive consumption of fructose detrimentally affects cognitive function; although, the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can help combat the negative effects of fructose. This discovery spurred our interest in further pursuing how one’s diet affects one’s brain and gained us an abundance of media attention.

The “Good Fat”

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that play a crucial role in maintaining an individual’s overall health and well-being. These fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that human bodies cannot produce; therefore, they must be obtained through a human’s diet. Common foods that these fatty acids are found in include fish, nuts, and plant oils. Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly labeled as the “good fat” since they reduce cholesterol and “bad fat” (saturated fats) levels in the bloodstream. 

One type of omega-3 fatty acid, called DHA, is a major structural component of the brain. DHA plays a crucial role in brain development and function. Adequate levels of DHA have been linked to better cognitive function, memory, and attention. Our recent research revolves around how omega-3 fatty acids can assist in improving cognition, increasing synaptic plasticity, and supporting brain repair after brain injury. Our findings have led us to conclude that increased consumption of DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, results in higher learning abilities, due to consequent stimulation of the hippocampus.

Traditional Spice Alleviates Effects of Brain Injury

Curcumin is a natural compound found in turmeric, which is commonly used in Asian cuisines. Turmeric has been used for centuries as a traditional medicine, and curcumin is one of the active components in turmeric, responsible for many of its health benefits. Curcumin, a potent anti-inflammatory agent, can help reduce inflammation in the body. Curcumin also acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing free radicals in the body that cause oxidative stress. Additionally, curcumin has also demonstrated potential in supporting brain health and cognitive function. It may help improve memory and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. 

In our research, we found that the inclusion of curcumin in a test subject’s diet offsets the negative impacts of traumatic brain injury. Curcumin reduced oxidative damage in the brain and increased levels of protein in the brain which are associated with lower levels of stress, depression, and anxiety.