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Each year, 1500 children are rushed to our hospital’s Emergency Department with a brain injury.  Even when the injury seems relatively minor it’s cause for concern.  Recent brain health research shows that concussions can be much more serious and long-lasting than previously thought. Indeed, repeated concussions can lead to permanent changes in behaviour and personality.  And that’s a worrying situation for everyone.

In the immediate aftermath of a concussion, headache is the most common symptom. In fact, for about 10 per cent of kids who have concussion, headaches can persist for more than three months after the injury. Other debilitating symptoms include impaired cognition, poor concentration, irritability, nausea, difficulty sleeping and depression. These symptoms can have a serious compounding effect because they may impact a child’s family life, school performance and social relationships.

Dr. Karen Barlow and her team want children to recover quickly and fully after they've been diagnosed with concussion. And while we want to prevent brain injury from happening in the first place, when such an injury does occur, we need effective post-concussion treatments. Currently, none exist.

Our scientists are collaborating with specialists in sports medicine and adult care to develop a treatment that shows promise for helping children with mild brain injury or concussion. Their research is examining how the sleep hormone melatonin—the production of which may be disrupted by brain injury—reduces the painful headache symptoms associated with concussion. And our researchers are going a step further. They are also examining how melatonin may “calm” the over-stimulated, injured neurons that result from a concussion.

Thanks to the community support that funded a new 3-Tesla MRI scanner, our research team is using high-resolution structural, functional and chemical imaging to see how the child’s brain responds to melatonin. By focusing on the neurobiology of injury—what happens to the cells and the circuits and the nerves that process information within the brain—Dr. Barlow and her colleagues are finding better ways to manage post-concussion symptoms and therefore improve long-term outcomes for children who have had a brain injury.

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