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If you’re an athlete or soldier, or anyone vulnerable to a head injury, you’ve asked the question.

That’s because concussions are a type of non-penetrating traumatic brain injury (TBI), and it’s not known how many can lead to debilitating later-in-life health consequences such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a devastating degenerative brain disease found in some athletes, soldiers, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma.

The prevailing thought has been that TBIs elicit the same physiological response across the population—that most people are similarly affected by one or more head injuries and the best–and really only—response to a TBI is to limit exposure.

It turns out, though, that asking how many concussions is too many isn’t the right question to ask, because it may not be the right way to think about how and to whom TBIs cause damage.

According to research by Steven Kornguth, the right questions have to do with vulnerability versus resilience, and protection versus overcoming.

For some people, one or more TBIs can have devastating effects later in life. For others, whether they’ve had a few or many, there are limited long-term consequences. Because TBIs are experienced differently by different people, there are more relevant ways for you to think about TBI:

  • What’s your vulnerability to TBI to and what’s your level of resilience?
  • What’s the level of protection you need from a TBI and how can you can overcome its effects once you’ve had one?

“TBI affects people in the prime of their lives. How do we change that? How do we help them? That’s a big motivation for me,” Kornguth says.

Steven Kornguth stands in front of a class of undergraduates at UT Austin

Steven Kornguth teaches “Autoimmune Disease,” an undergraduate course in the College of Education, cross-listed in Undergraduate Studies. The course is open to undergraduates from across the university.

Kornguth is looking at the surprising role of the body’s autoimmune system in TBI development. He is a senior research fellow in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education and professor of neurology at Dell Medical School.

There are molecular, cellular and systemic responses to traumatic head and body events, so he and his colleagues are asking a new and surprising question: What is the body’s autoimmune response to TBIs?

Rather than simply looking at limiting exposure to concussions, Kornguth is looking at those who may have high resilience and would be unlikely to suffer long-term consequences, and then what role the autoimmune response plays in that.

Is there an evolving autoimmune process that leads to CTE? If that’s the case, can customized treatment protocols be applied for the management of the autoimmune disease process? Can better and more specialized equipment be provided?

These questions are leading them in an attempt to determine if there are pharmacological treatments that can be offered to reduce the effects of TBI and prevent the development of CTE.

If researchers can understand the level of vulnerability an individual may have in the first place, it’s possible there can be medications given to vulnerable populations before and/or after a TBI that will limit autoimmune response.

Steven Kornguth sits with undergraduates in his Autoimmune Diseases course

Steven Kornguth sits with undergraduates in his Autoimmune Diseases course.

Kornguth is one of the nation’s foremost researchers on the long-term effects of concussions on athletes and soldiers. For years, he has worked on biodefense programs with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin Madison, University of Texas at Austin, and the Army Research Laboratories and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Washington, D.C.

But each spring of the academic year, you can find him leading an undergraduate signature course, Autoimmune Disease, talking about sense-making and the autoimmune system with 18-22 year-olds.

Why does Kornguth choose to teach undergrads? “Why wouldn’t I?” he says. “The rate of scientific discovery relating to the cause and treatment of these diseases is progressing very rapidly, and so as both a faculty member and student, I find there is a new insight we all perceive from each day’s discussion,” he says.

How he does it:

Sense-making is one element of Kornguth’s life work. It’s the process of finding patterns in seemingly unrelated data to gain new insight for civilian and soldier protection.

Sense-making is critical in medicine, he says, “where a practitioner can take what appear to be dispersed signs and symptoms reported by a patient, and align these into a fused diagnosis.”

This same process, he notes, is critical in technology innovation and intelligence-gathering, and many other aspects of life in the world.

Learn more:

In a series of podcasts produced by the Office of Instructional Innovation, Steven Kornguth discusses various aspects of health and autoimmune disease.

Listen to the Learning from Texas Education Innovators podcast.

It can be difficult for those with a fine motor disability to complete certain gestures. An undergraduate researcher is studying how different forces or force combinations may be more strenuous to conduct than others. By having volunteers perform specific motions, his research has the ability to assist physical therapists in demonstrating therapy processes to patients.

Pinching motor skills apparatus

Motor Skills Apparatus

Jacob Vines, senior Kinesiology and Health Education student, was awarded the Undergraduate Research Fellowship from the Office of Undergraduate Research for spring 2018. His novel exploratory project titled “Digit Force Magnitude and Inter-digit Force Coordination Effects on Performance of a Complex Low-Level Force Pinch” examines motor function in adults.

Inspiration for Research

While working in the Motor Coordination Lab led by Professor Lawrence Abraham, Vines was inspired to pursue this research after seeing the crossover between the research of hand and finger motor control and the process of rehabilitation of hand and finger injuries in physical therapy.

Research Overview

In his research project, volunteers perform a complex coordination task to determine the dexterity of right-handed adults aged 18 to 30 years with no known neurological or musculoskeletal disorders of the right hand or arm.

Photo of Jacob Vines

Jacob Vines

“The complex coordination task was to use the right thumb and index finger to move a cursor counterclockwise around a diamond shape that was placed in four locations on the computer screen (up/down/right/left). For this task, force with the index finger moved the cursor vertically and force with the thumb moved the cursor horizontally,” said Vines.

“The choice of doing the index finger and thumb is to imitate general fine motor control like unbuttoning a shirt, and the use of the diamond task is to have varying forces between the thumb and index finger, which occurs in everyday life activities,” said Vines. “By using different finger combinations or a different task, the result would change completely from the current study. It would also not be as applicable to everyday life activities.”

Advice for Students Pursuing Undergraduate Research

Vines credits the research with helping guide him in pursuing a professional career. He has been able to better understand the process of scientific research as he decides whether or not he wants to pursue physical therapy and research different physical therapy techniques.

He advises students who are interested in conducting research to “formally and confidently email different labs doing research that you find interesting. Also, talk to any professors who teach classes you enjoy and ask if they have any open undergraduate research positions.”

A casual conversation on a flight from back to Austin from Newark led to an appearance on the Dr. Oz Show for Tim Fleisher, a Ph.D. candidate in exercise science in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education.

On an episode set to air May 16, 2018, Fleisher shares his research and exercise techniques to ease lower back pain and strengthen abdominal muscles.

“I sat next to Dr. Oz on a flight on the way back from working with the Harvard swim team at their Ivy League championships.  He sat down next to me and we just started talking. I am the head of the BIO 446L anatomy lab, so I had my iPad that I teach from. He went to Harvard and his son is on the water polo team. We immediately hit it off and I pitched him on the idea of balloons to strengthen the abs. He loved it and here we are,” says Fleisher.

Fleisher does his research in the Neuromuscular Physiology Research Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin. He focuses on neuromuscular recruitment strategies of the deep hip muscles in healthy individuals versus women with postpartum stress urinary incontinence. Fleisher is also a STOTT PILATES instructor trainer and licensed massage therapist that focuses on post rehabilitative and “prehabilitative” strategies to help people with movement impairments.

Fleisher says he got the idea for his research when he was working in Brazil as a certifier for Pilates instructors. He pitched the idea to Associate Professor Lisa Griffin, of the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, and thus became a part of the program.

Fleisher’s appearance on the Dr. Oz show will be May 16, 2018, at 1 p.m. CST on Fox (Fox 7 KTBC in Austin). Fleisher has produced a full-length video that demonstrates the exercise he presents on the show.


R. Matt Brothers isn’t an M.D., but he’s tweaking a medical procedure that could save life and limb.

Brothers, an assistant professor in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, along with Kenneth Diller, professor of biomedical engineering at UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering, has received a four-year grant to explore how a procedure called cryotherapy can be used to treat patients without causing them injuries or leading to amputation.

Cryotherapy is the treatment of a physical ailment through the use of cold temperatures, and it can be as basic as having a football player dunk his leg in an ice bath after a game or the procedure can be employed in complex orthopedic surgeries.

While the number of people who have benefited from cryotherpay is immeasurable, the procedure has significant downsides.

“Currently, there are about 1,500 to 2,000 incidences of cryotherapy induced injury a year in the U.S. alone,” said Brothers, who specializes in cardiovascular physiology. “On the surface you might say, well, what’s the significance? It may seem like a trivial number, but you break that down and you have five, six, seven injuries a day.”

Brothers lab group shot

Pictured (left to right): Janee Terwoord, Kevin Christmas, Dr. R. Matt Brothers, Chansol Hurr, Jordan Patik

These injuries range from tissue necrosis (the death of cells due to lack of blood flow) to neuropathy (damage to the peripheral nervous system) and, in extreme cases, amputation.

Most simple applications of cryotherapy carry little or no danger, but when someone has sustained cryotherapy treatment, such as with knee surgery, there is a distinct risk of harm, according to Brothers.

The reason? In an extended cryotherapy treatment, during which a patient may have a limb submerged in icy water for several hours, blood flow in the treatment area reduces by 90 percent. When the limb is removed from the ice bath skin temperature returns to normal fairly quickly, but blood flow in the affected area remains at 10 percent of its baseline value for up to two or three hours post-treatment.

According to Brothers, this restriction of blood and oxygen supply to tissues – called “ischemia” – can have disastrous consequences.

“Currently, there are about 1,500 to 2,000 incidences of cryotherapy induced injury a year in this country alone.” – R. Matt Brothers, a cardiovascular physiologist specialist

“It’s this state of pronounced and sustained ischemia that is likely causing many of the injuries,” said Brothers. “You’re not watching out for the metabolites that are being produced, not providing new blood, and not providing oxygen. All of this creates an internal environment that makes people more susceptible to injuries.”

Thanks to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant, Brothers and Diller have teamed up as co-principal investigators in a new study that may solve that problem.

“Ken’s engineering background and expertise in device design nicely compliments my background in integrative physiology and vascular control, and those two areas of expertise are what this research project demands,” said Brothers.

According to Brothers, the research has three main aims. The first is to identify the core issues – find out how much blood flow decreases and if there is a temperature response to the water that’s applied, for example.

The second aim, which is to mechanistically identify the main source of the blood constriction, is more difficult. Using a delicate process that involves small gauge hollow needles, sterile membranes, and a laser Doppler probe, various drugs that impact blood pressure and heart rate are infused just below the surface of the skin.

A host of antioxidants will be tested to block the response of sympathetic nerves that are most likely causing the stricture. “The beauty of this protocol is that whatever we infuse stays local. There’s really no harm, from a risk standpoint, to the subject because the effect washes out very rapidly,” said Brothers.

The final goal of the study is to design a new cryotherapy device that can overcome the negative complications of the procedure.

“We don’t want to completely inhibit the vaso constriction or the ischemic response,” said Brothers. “There are very real clinical benefits from those in terms of reducing pain and swelling, so there is a need for it. We’re just trying to identify how we can prevent it from being so pronounced for so long.”

Device design could take a variety of directions, but for now Brothers envisions a cryotherapy apparatus that will stimulate enough blood flow to clean out old metabolites and reintroduce fresh blood and oxygen.

“We’re tinkering with different ways to inflate the cuff ever so briefly,” said Brothers. “This will cause pressure to build up that squeezes the blood vessels, washes out what was sitting in there all this time, and re-infuses life.”

Brothers and Diller are just beginning the research project, so hard data and final results are still a long way off.

“With this kind of work, very rarely do you answer a question and consider the investigation definitely done,” said Brothers. “You find information that has an effect and then you build on that and build on the next thing. I see who-knows-how-many subprojects resulting from this grant. Even considering all of the uncertainties, I’m very optimistic that the outcome will deliver widespread benefits.”

-Video by Christina S. Murrey

For years common sense has told us that swimming is a beneficial exercise. But thanks to ongoing research by Dr. Hirofumi Tanaka, director of the College of Education’s Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory at The University of Texas at Austin, is offering proof to bolster those claims.

“Everybody knows exercise is good,” he said. “But the exercise that people talk about, research-wise, is often walking or cycling. When exercise guidelines are released swimming is always included, but there’s no research evidence that swimming is equally effective.”

Seeking to fill this knowledge gap, Tanaka is conducting a groundbreaking study of the effects of swimming on older adults afflicted by issues such as osteoarthritis.

“If you look at the Arthritis Foundation’s website and brochures, there’s a picture of a guy who’s swimming,” he said. “But if you search the literature to try to find any research that used swimming with arthritis patients, there’s none.”

Dr. Hirofumi Tanaka

Dr. Hirofumi Tanaka

“Older people are preferentially affected by arthritis, especially osteoarthritis,” he said. “Some people hate to exercise because of the pain, but swimming is one of the few things where they don’t really have to worry about that. Because it’s not a weight bearing activity, they don’t suffer the knee or hip or joint pain that most arthritis patients suffer.”

Although the final results from the study won’t be available until later this summer, Tanaka has discovered that the concrete benefits of swimming are manifold.

“We’re finally getting data showing that swimming exercise reduces pain as well as improves functions in arthritis patients,” he said.

In addition to easing arthritis discomfort, the water-bound exercise has proven to be as effective as cycling and walking in reducing high blood pressure and mitigating knee and ankle pain in overweight patients who have no other viable form of exercise. Additionally, the risk of heat exhaustion or heat stroke can be erased from these patients. “If you’re obese and exercise in hot temperatures, you’ll overheat yourself, but you can avoid that in swimming,” Tanaka said.

A onetime triathlete with a long-standing interest in swimming, Tanaka has been studying the health benefits of the sport for 15 years. For his master’s thesis he focused on weight-training activities for competitive swimmers and subsequently studied the effects of swimming on elderly patients with high blood pressure for his doctoral degree.

“We’re finally getting data showing that swimming exercise reduces pain as well as improves functions in arthritis patients.” – Hirofumi Tanaka, director of the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory,

But it wasn’t until he arrived at UT Austin that his research acquired a fresh focus, thanks to a new technique for assessing arterial stiffness.

“I wanted to determine if swimming is effective in reducing arterial stiffness,” said Tanaka. “The reason your blood pressure shoots up as you get older is that your arteries become stiff. We examined that issue three or four years ago, so this latest research on osteoarthritis patients is the next step in the ongoing research.”

The current study is the culmination of these efforts, with close to two years of research and 30 study participants. “In many aspects it’s actually a good message that we can deliver,” he said. “Swimming is better than other forms of exercise for these patients, as long as benefits are verified. Now we’re getting the research findings to back it up. Finally.”

SwimmerFuelled by a desire to improve public health through non-invasive lifestyle interventions, Tanaka’s studies have moved from sport science to his current clinically oriented cardiovascular research interests. His primary passions revolve around preventive cardiology and preventive gerontology, which is the study of how cardiovascular and physical functions deteriorates with age and what kinds of lifestyle modifications can help retard those changes.

“I thought that would be more rewarding,” said Tanaka, “because many people suffer from heart attacks and strokes. In fact, my dad had aortic dissections so I have a family history and some personal interest to go along with that. It’s an ambitious mission, but I’d like my work to help eradicate life-threatening occurrences like heart attacks.”

Dr. Tanaka factoids:

  • Earned a B.A. in physical education/martial arts at the International Budo (Martial Arts) University in Japan, earning three black belts.
  • Joined the University of Texas at Austin faculty in 2002.
  • Has published more than 200 research articles in journals such as Circulation and the The Journal of Physiology.
  • Is an elected fellow of the American Heart Association, the American College of Sports Medicine, The Gerontological Society of America, and the Society for Geriatric Cardiology.

Researchers in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education (KHE) at UT Austin are studying children’s physical activity and its effects on cognitive health, behavior, and academic performance. Produced by the Longhorn Network, this documentary focuses on the work of the department’s Kinetic Kidz Lab, which is directed by KHE associate professor and graduate adviser Darla Castelli.

Video by: Longhorn Network

Matt Camarillo

Matt Camarillo

Matt Camarillo now holds an M.D. from the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, thanks to a strong start in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. He points to his time at The University of Texas at Austin as the ideal launch for his medical studies.

“Everything I learned I was able to carry over to medical school and orthopedic residency,” he said. “My undergraduate experiences gave me a great foundation for my future career.”

Your story

As a freshman I had the opportunity to serve as a student athletic trainer in the College of Education’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. It was the perfect situation since I’d always really wanted to be involved in a combination of sports and medicine. Thanks to the guidance of Allen Hardin and Brian Farr I took on that role while mainlining my academic schedule, all the while working toward the goal of going to medical school. They also gave me the opportunity to major in chemistry as well so I could complete the prerequisites for medical school.

Why UT?

I visited a couple of campuses, but when they gave me the opportunity to work as a student athletic trainer at UT it was a no brainer at that point. My family all graduated from UT and I love the whole atmosphere of Austin. The fact that the university and college gave me so much help in completing my education was also really the driving factor.

Life After UT

After graduation I went to the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. During my fourth year Gov. Rick Perry appointed me student regent for the UT System Board of Regents. When I completed that program in 2008, I did my orthopedic residency at the University of Houston trauma center. This was an intensive five-year program that focused on the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders. I finished there in 2013. Currently I’m at the University of Kentucky doing a sports medicine fellowship, which is a dedicated year of training in sports medicine, specifically for knee and shoulder injuries. Next year I’m returning to University of Houston as a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery.

Advice for Students

Follow your goals. Take advantage of all the opportunities you have as an undergrad. Take advantage of the professors and everything available to you. Explore. Don’t be too set on one thing. Keep your mind open to the new and different because things may pop up during your education that may actually change your life and change your career path.


College of Education faculty and students are nationally known for their landmark research on topics like depression, exercise physiology, autism, at-risk student populations, and learning disabilities. Their wide-ranging expertise frequently is tapped by the media – from the New York Times to NPR and The Texas Tribune. Check out this sample of the coverage our top-ranked college has garnered.

New York Times
Victor Saenz
“A Degree Goal: To Close a Gender Gap That Favors Women”

“If half the population is systematically lagging behind the other half, that’s going to be a real drag on our ability to meet our goals and secure any kind of prosperity for our future.”

Julian Vasquez Heilig
“The ‘domino effect’ of school closings”

“What we used to call discrimination we now call civil rights. For example, we talked about how African American and Latino students performed on high stakes exams – now we talk about the gap as civil rights. Charter schools? We talk about those as civil rights.”

KNOW – UT Austin
College of Education Students Sergio Valverde, Stephen Galvan, Renae Greening
“Open Up and Say ‘Hook’em’: Student Athletic Trainers”

“It just gives you chills watching an athlete get back into their prime and knowing you were a part of that process.”

Chicago Tribune
Aaron Rochlen
“Do-it-yourself dads”

“If these at-home dads – and we’re talking about gay men and straight men – still view themselves as providers, they often adjust to the role just fine. The ones who do well don’t feel they have to conform to traditional gender models.”

Center for Community College Student Engagement
Community Colleges Can Foster Student Success by Supporting Their Adjuncts
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Read Full Article

“Adjuncts typically are hired at the last minute, and, once on the job, they lack access to orientation, professional development, administrative and technology support, and office space. They also don’t get the chance to network with peers about teaching and learning, and they’re shut out of campus discussions on how to improve student learning.”

College of Education
A Note From Manuel J. Justiz
The Texas Tribune
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“The strength of our alliance begins with a belief in quality, highly effective instruction and equal education opportunities for all learners.”

Brian Farr
MLB decides to cover all bases
Houston Chronicle
Read Full Article

“…we know that when it comes to concussions, damage can be cumulative and may not show up in its entirety for some time. We know that many players either don’t report, or under-report, concussion symptoms. So, there are probably many more concussions occurring during these violent collisions than are reported. We also know that once a person suffers a concussion, it is easier to suffer another.”