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Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Research at Hennepin Healthcare

Hennepin Healthcare has a long tradition of providing quality care for patients with all types and severity of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and spinal cord injury (SCI).  Clinical research, under the auspices of Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute (HHRI), has been a major part of the neurosurgical trauma program for over 35 years and continues with numerous ongoing projects. Current research staff includes:

Thomas Bergman, MD, active Hennepin Healthcare staff from 1988-present and current Chief of Neurosurgery, is involved in a number of research projects; including the Hyperbaric Oxygen Brain Injury Treatment Trial (HOBIT), Cortical Spreading Depolarization After Severe Traumatic Brain Injury, and the Epidural Stimulation After Neurologic Damage (E-Stand) clinical trial.

David Darrow, MD is the current Neurosurgery Chief Resident at Hennepin Healthcare and a University of Minnesota neurosurgery resident. Dr. Darrow will be joining the University of Minnesota and Hennepin Healthcare faculty in July of 2020. He is leading the Cortical Spreading Depolarization After Severe Traumatic Brain Injury Trial with Dr. Samuel Cramer. Dr. Darrow is also principal investigator for the E-STAND clinical trial.

Walter Galicich, MD, has been an active Hennepin Healthcare staff neurosurgeon since 1998 and is the current Medical Director of Hennepin Healthcare’s Traumatic Brain Injury Center. Dr. Galicich is active with the HOBIT trial, Cortical Spreading Depolarization After Severe Traumatic Brain Injury, and E-STAND clinical trials.

Gaylan Rockswold, MD, PhD, former Chief of Neurosurgery (1976-2011) and former Medical Director of Hennepin Healthcare’s Traumatic Brain Injury Center (2006-2015), is the lead Principal Investigator in the HOBIT trial.

Sarah Rockswold, MD is a co-investigator in the HOBIT trial and has also been a key researcher in several hyperbaric oxygen research studies. Dr. Sarah Rockswold also has an extensive background in brain injury research at Hennepin Healthcare with a focus on oculomotor (vision) dysfunction following TBI.


The Hyperbaric Oxygen Brain Injury Treatment (HOBIT) trial is a Phase 2 Adaptive, multicenter trial funded by a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Hennepin Healthcare is one of twelve Level 1 trauma center hospitals nationwide enrolling patients in this TBI study and the only institution involved in this research in Minnesota.

The HOBIT trial centers on how the injured brain utilizes oxygen and studies the use of hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy in people with severe traumatic brain injury. Researchers at Hennepin Healthcare have been investigating the potential of delivering hyperbaric oxygen acutely to patients with severe TBI for 30 years. These many research studies, including NIH funded studies, have set the tone for today’s research and resulted in numerous publications.

Favorable clinical outcomes and mortality rates from severe TBI have not significantly improved over several decades. Statistically, the death rate for individuals who suffer a severe TBI remains at 30-40%, and the percentage of patients who regain meaningful function following a severe TBI remains low. The HOBIT trial is assessing if this treatment can eventually reduce mortality and improve the overall outcomes seen with severe TBI.

Visit the Hyperbaric Medicine webpage to learn more about hyperbaric oxygen treatment and research at Hennepin Healthcare.

Read a local news story about a patient involved in the HOBIT trial.

Cortical Spreading Depolarization

The Cortical Spreading Depolarization After Severe Traumatic Brain Injury trial has the potential to impact the collective knowledge base regarding severe traumatic brain injury. Cortical spreading depolarizations (CSDs), are massive electrical waves that occur after a traumatic brain injury and disrupt brain function. CSDs could cause additional secondary injury to the brain. This study aims to gain an improved understanding of the factors that influence these CSDs. With this knowledge, strategies could be developed to reduce or stop CSDs from occurring, thereby reducing the secondary damage that occurs following a severe impact on the brain. This study is funded through the Minnesota Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Grant Program.

Epidural Stimulation

Epidural Stimulation After Neurologic Damage (E-STAND)

The goal of this trial is to test and optimize the use of spinal cord stimulation to restore volitional movement and other functions in patients who have a complete spinal cord injury causing paraplegia. Visit the E-STAND website for more information.

Hennepin Healthcare also contributes to the research community in other important ways. In 2015, thanks to strong advocacy from Hennepin Healthcare staff, the Minnesota State Legislature established the Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Grant Program. Hennepin Healthcare, as well as other institutions, have been awarded grant funding through this program. Dr. Sarah Rockswold sat on the Program’s Statewide Advisory Council from 2015-2019. Nova McNally, Program Manager of the Traumatic Brain Injury Outpatient Program, serves on the council currently.

For more information about TBI research or clinical care, please contact the Traumatic Brain Injury Center Coordinator at 612-873-3284.

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