Scholarship to research TBI classification system

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the focus of the recipient of the 2020 Royal Canadian Legion Masters Scholarship in Veteran Health Research. 

“Traumatic brain injury was a significant injury in both Iraq and Afghanistan war zones and is a leading cause of mortality in Canada for people under 40 years of age,” said Abdelhakim Khellaf during the online presentation of the award on Jan. 27. 

Knowing the severity and type of injury are important.

The award is usually presented at the annual forum of the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, which was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. 

Khellaf, of the University of Toronto, will focus on the development of a new classification system for TBI. 

For more than a decade, international researchers have been refining the system for classifying TBIs. Knowing the severity and type of injury—concussion, contusion, penetrating injury, loss of oxygen supply—are important in determining the best treatment and rehabilitation. But other factors are also important, such as concurrent mental health conditions, including depression and post-traumatic stress injury, as well as functional and social outcomes, such as loss of cognitive ability and behavioural changes that affect family relationships and the ability to hold down a job.

“Dr. Khellaf will break new ground as he develops a new classification system and looks at the risk of TBI complications and the best treatment options,” which could lead to better health outcomes for veterans, said Legion Dominion President Tom Irvine. 

Due to the nature of their work, those in the military are at increased risk of penetrating or blast injuries, and Khellaf realized they require a unique treatment approach and that the current classification system needs updating, said Irvine.

Since its founding in 2013, the Legion scholarship has supported research into fear memory, mental health, chronic pain, support animals and improving survival odds for soldiers with gunshot wounds. 

“The evidence-based know-ledge that comes from research helps the Legion pursue a range of advocacy work in such areas as operational stress injury and homelessness,” said Irvine. 

The scholarship will provide $30,000 over two years to support Khellaf’s research.

Two other researchers of military and veterans’ health issues also received awards at the online presentation. 

Kate St. Cyr of the University of Toronto received the Wounded Warriors Doctoral Scholarship to support her research into sex-specific differences in the use of mental health services. The scholarship provides $36,000 over two years. 

Valérie Ranger of the University of Ottawa received the $5,000 Dr. Mark Zamorski Award to support her research into cognitive reserve, cognition and post-traumatic stress injury across time, focusing on veterans. 

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