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Reducing the long-term impact of traumatic brain injury on children’s lives

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Around 35,000 children in the UK are admitted to hospital each year because of a traumatic brain injury (TBI).[1,2] Thankfully, most are not serious – but some children will lose their lives or will be left with lifelong consequences, including learning difficulties and challenging behaviours such as aggression.[1] Professor David Sharp of Imperial College London is aiming to build a better understanding of the long-term effects of TBI on brain development. He hopes his results will help reduce the impact of this serious and distressing type of injury on the lives of children and young people and their families.

This project is funded by a generous donation from the Garfield Weston Foundation.

How are children’s lives affected now?

Mainly arising from road accidents, falls and assaults, traumatic brain injury (TBI) is very common in children and a leading cause of disability. Some children will lose their lives – or will be left with lasting brain damage that leads to long-term difficulties such as learning disabilities, emotional or behavioural issues.

“Thankfully, most children who have a bump or knock to their head will have no lasting effects – but it can sometimes have life-changing consequences for a child and their family,” says Professor Sharp.

Unfortunately, it is currently difficult for doctors to predict the long-term effects of a moderate or severe TBI on a child’s brain development.

“Knowing which children who have experienced a TBI are likely to struggle would mean they could get earlier access to treatment and support when it may be most beneficial,” says Professor Sharp.

How could this research help?

“Our ultimate aim is to reduce the long-term impact of a TBI on the lives of children and young people,” says Professor Sharp.

In a previous Action-funded study, the researchers studied a group of children with TBI. Using advanced MRI scans and detailed neuropsychological assessments, they identified specific types of brain injury that were linked with marked impairments in memory, concentration and behaviour in affected children.

“These results led us to hypothesise that these injuries may ‘arrest’ the child’s brain development – and that this is the root cause of their ongoing problems,” says Professor Sharp.

The team will now carry out the same tests on 50 children with TBI (including those who took part in the original study) and 20 healthy children.

“By assessing the same children again, we hope to distinguish the early and later effects of their injuries on brain development – and identify specific changes that can help predict who will have long-term complications,” says Professor Sharp. “Identifying children who are at most risk of poor outcomes will allow them to access appropriate support as soon as possible.”


  1. Trefan L, et al. Epidemiology of children with head injury: a national overview. Archives of Diseases in Childhood 2016;
  2. NHS England: NHS standard contract for paediatric neurosciences: Neurorehabilitation Section B Part 1 E09/S/d:


Research table

Project details

Project Leader Professor David Sharp, MBBS BA PhD MRCP
Location Computational, Cognitive and Clinical Neuroimaging Laboratory, Imperial College London
Project Team Dr Adam S Kuczynski, DClinPsy.
Professor Faraneh Vargha-Khadem, F Med Sci.
Dr Adam Hampshire, MA PhD.
Other Locations Psychological Services - Neuropsychology, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health.
Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health.
Developmental Neuroscience, University College London.
Division of Brain Sciences, Imperial College London.
Grant Awarded
Grant Amount £199,235
Start Date
End Date
Grant Code (GN number) GN2805


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