The University of Texas Board of Regents approved $2.5 million earlier this month to establish “the first and only of its kind” trauma care research center in San Antonio, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Trauma Research and Combat Casualty Care Collaborative, or TRC4, will be located at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, designed to address the need for improved trauma care in the U.S., on the battlefield and in the civilian sector, to improve the care, health outcomes and survival rate of those with trauma injuries.

Trauma injuries are the leading cause of death and permanent disability in children and adults under 44 years of age, according to the announcement from the UT System, while trauma is the number one challenge in military medicine.

The UT System’s investment matches an initial in-kind commitment from the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research, and will cover early start-up costs for the collaborative, including hiring executive leadership and administrators, developing the TRC4 strategic plan, establishing the peer review process, and providing initial research funding. The funding will be released in 2023.

TRC4 will leverage partnerships with University Health System’s Level 1 Trauma Center and the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC), which responds to emergencies in Bexar County. 

Trauma is a leading cause of death among military service members, said Susannah Nicholson, a trauma surgeon and director of trauma research at UT Health Long School of Medicine.

“It’s important to advance discoveries in this area so we can really improve patient care,” she said, adding researchers are looking at artificial intelligence and decision support in times of mass trauma.

“How do we add a systems level that best addresses an event like a mass casualty event, or if there’s a natural disaster? Similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, the infrastructure in place through STRAC was important in our area to address the pandemic. Being able to have technology that helps with that is extremely important as we move forward,” Nicholson said.

An estimated six million patients suffer from trauma wounds and 1.2 million patients from burn wounds in the United States, costing more than $25 billion per year, according to the UT System, more than double the cost of heart disease and nearly triple the cost of cancer and diabetes.

At the TRC4, researchers will continue to examine how to improve mobilizing blood transfusions in times of mass trauma, researching traumatic brain injury, stem cell research, burn therapeutics and how to advance wound care, among other research.

“The center is really to do research to improve outcomes for people after they’ve sustained traumas,” said Nicholson. “Advancing research in traumatic brain injury, in wound care, advancing and improving innovation in decision support, in artificial intelligence that could help with trauma systems, pain management, all of these areas.”

Ronald Stewart, a trauma surgeon at University Hospital and faculty at the UT Health Long School of Medicine, said the hospital is honored to be the center selected to host the statewide collaboration of trauma researchers.

“UT Health San Antonio and its key clinical partner, University Health, have more than half a century of experience in trauma care and research,” said Stewart, who also serves as chair of the American College of Surgery’s Committee on Trauma. “Facilitating the UT System collaboration will accelerate knowledge discovery and dissemination within the trauma care community for the benefit of our patients.”

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Raquel Torres

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.