Department of Neurosurgery

The Smith Neurotrauma Lab is led by Douglas Smith, MD and a team of research specialists.

The Smith Neurotrauma Lab consists of a group of research professionals in various stages of their medical career.

Douglas Smith, MD

Douglas H. Smith serves as Director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair (CBIR) and is the Robert A. Groff Endowed Professor and Vice Chairman for Research and Education in Neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania. Penn's multi disciplined CBIR includes over 25 principal investigators and their laboratory staff collectively studying mechanisms, diagnosis and potential treatments of traumatic brain injury.

Dr. Smith is also director of a multi-center U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) program grant on mild traumatic brain injury and oversees an NIH brain injury training grant. Over the last 20 years, Dr. Smith has devoted his full-time efforts to neurotrauma research following completion of fellowships in both molecular biology and neurotrauma at the University of Connecticut. His laboratory investigates the effects of mechanical stretch of axons that results in either damage or growth. He has found that rapid stretch during brain trauma selectively injures axons in the white matter. In turn, aberrant accumulation of proteins in the damaged axons can lead to pathologic changes similar to those found in Alzheimer's disease. In addition, Dr. Smith's laboratory has also recently discovered that slow continuous stretching of axon tracts in culture can stimulate enormous growth, creating transplantable living nervous tissue constructs. These tissue engineered constructs have shown promise for repairing large lesions in the nervous system. These collective efforts have resulted in over 150 published reports.

Nimish K. Acharya, PhD

Dr. Acharya obtained his PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology from Rutgers University (formerly UMDNJ). His dissertation studies were aimed at understanding the pathophysiology of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and developing blood-based biomarkers for AD diagnosis. He holds a Master's degree in Medical Biochemistry and a Bachelor's degree in Medical Laboratory Technology. Dr. Acharya joined the Smith lab in 2016 and is spearheading a project investigating the formation of intricate neuronal pathways in the developing brain. He is also part of the team investigating the pathophysiology of Traumatic Brain Injury using the Smith Lab's rotational acceleration injury model.

John D. Arena, MS

John is an M.D. Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. His research interests are focused on underlying mechanisms of axonal injury and the long-term neurodegenerative sequelae of traumatic brain injury. John also serves a leadership role in the School of Medicine's Langfitt Neurosurgical Society, helping connect students with research mentors. Prior to his arrival at Penn, John attended the Johns Hopkins University where he studied neuroscience, investigated rodent models of TBI and captained the Blue Jays football team.

John Cognetti, MSE

John (BA, physics, Villanova University; M.S.E., nanotechnology, University of Pennsylvania) is a research specialist in the Smith Lab. While a Master's student at Penn, he worked on designing a microfluidics-based sensor to detect rotational acceleration that could cause brain damage. He is currently interested in epigenetic changes after trauma and their influences on neurodegeneration, as well as the nanofabrication of systems for in vitro cell growth patterns. He hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.

Billy Covert, BS

Billy has been an intern at the Smith Neurotrauma Lab since November 2015, and was hired as a Research Specialist in May 2016. He earned a B.S. in Criminology from the University of South Florida and served as a military officer before completing a post-baccalaureate premedical program at Thomas Jefferson University. Billy is interested in the molecular factors of neuronal degeneration following traumatic brain injury, as well as their future application in therapeutic techniques.

Jean-Pierre Dollé, PhD

Jean-Pierre received his PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Rutgers University, his MS in Biomedical Engineering from Drexel University and his BSc in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. His research interests involve investigating the increased risk of dementia following traumatic brain injury events.

Arka Mallela, MS

Arka is an M.D Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine currently taking a research year out in the Smith Lab. His research interests include multimodal neuroimaging and computational modeling of traumatic brain injury and translating these findings to the clinical setting. Outside of lab, Arka enjoys hiking and way too many TV shows.

Randel Swanson, DO, PhD

Dr. Swanson is a Physiatrist (Rehab Doctor) specializing in Neurorehabilitation, with a clinical focus on Traumatic Brain Injury. Broadly speaking, Dr. Swanson's research interests surround the mechanisms of secondary neurodegeneration following TBI, and the development of accurate diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for post-TBI neurodegeneration. Dr. Swanson joined the lab in 2016 after receiving funding (K-award) through the Rehabilitation Medical Scientist Training Program (RMSTP). His RMSTP research aims to investigate the role of IgG-autoantibodies in secondary neuronal injury following TBI. Further, Dr. Swanson will be examining the utility of IgG-autoantibodies to serve as novel biomarkers for advanced TBI diagnostic and prognostic testing.

Maura Weber, BA

Maura began working in the Smith lab in 2013 while an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. She graduated from Penn in 2014 after completing an honors thesis in the Biological Basis of Behavior program and joined the lab full time as a Research Specialist. Her research interests include evaluating mechanisms of axonal degeneration and repair following brain injury as well as studying the neuropathological effects of trauma. Maura greatly enjoys the fast-paced environment of Penn research and values the opportunity to collaborate with both scientists and medical professionals at the university.

Syed M. Ahmed, MD

Syed is a medical graduate from Pakistan and a member of Dr. Jose Pascual’s lab. His project focuses on the comparison of anti-inflammatory effects of heparinoids, noval oral anti-coagulants (NOACs), and anti-platelet drugs in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) setting. He utilizes flow cytometry, pial intravital microscopy, ELISA, and histology to quantify host tissue damage, neutrophil surface receptor expression, rolling and adhesion in a murine model of TBI.

Jose L. Pascual, MD

Jose L. Pascual, MD, PhD, FRCS, FACS, NCC (UCNS) Dr. Pascual is an Associate Professor of Surgery in the Department of Trauma, Emergency Surgery, and Surgical & NeuroCritical Care at both the University of Pennsylvania Hospital and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. He is the director of Office of Life Support Education, Patient Safety Officer at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital and Clinical Associate at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Nursing. He received his MD degree at University of Ottawa in 1996 and his PhD at McGill University in 2005. His thesis investigated the salutary effects of immunemodulating fluids in shock. Dr. Pascual research interests include Traumatic Brain Injury, shock and ICU education through simulation and patient safety initiatives. His TBI laboratory studies immune responses to injury through intravital microscopy of the cerebral microcirculation investigating the role of the neutrophil in injury and shock.

Yujin Suto, MD, PhD

Yujin is a visiting scholar from Japan, with 10 years of clinical experience as gastric surgeon. He is interested in the effects of heparinoids on traumatic brain injury (TBI) in multitrauma cases. His work in the lab focuses on anti-inflammatory properties of enoxaparin on secondary brain injury following TBI, in the presence of a concomitant long bone fracture. Evaluating in vivo through intravital microscopy the real time microcirculation of pia on rodent brains..

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