NNICU Research Activity

There is a rich tradition of fellow-driven research in the Neurology and Neurosurgery Intensive Care Unit (NNICU) at Washington University. The overall goal of NNICU research is to improve the lives of our patients by enhancing our understanding of acute brain injury pathogenesis. We believe that next-generation treatments will grow best from a solid foundation of disease phenomenology. To this end, we are actively engaged in research spanning the spectrum from true wet-lab studies in animal or cellular models, to multi-center randomized control trials, with every step in between. A particular focus and strength of our research approach is the use of advanced physiological tools, such as PET, advanced MRI, and neuromonitoring technologies, which provide unparalleled information about in vivo human brain function. Lab-based studies are further leveraged to provide mechanistic insights and to frame hypotheses that are then tested with targeted experiments in the ICU. We benefit from several unique resources that permit novel experimental design in the ICU, including a PET scanner in the unit (affectionately known as bed 21), a mini-wet lab in the ICU, and an advanced research imaging center (the CCIR) directly adjacent to the ICU. The CCIR is equipped with multiple research-grade scanners: a 1.5T MRI, a 3T MRI, a separate PET-3T MRI that is prioritized for ICU studies of acute brain injury, and a PET-CT. These scanners are exclusively utilized for research studies. A further strength of Washington University is its exceptionally robust spirit of collaboration. Experts in innumerable techniques and fields are available to support creative research ideas.

In addition to acute physiological research, we maintain a detailed clinical database spanning many years and employ a full-time ICU RN research coordinator as well as a full-time database manager to assist with fellow-driven prospective and retrospective clinical research.

Fellows are expected to complete an academic project during their training. For those seeking more comprehensive training in neurocritical care research, we also offer a research fellowship (see below). All fellows are supported to the fullest extent possible with mentoring, resources, and as much flexibility as clinical training allows. Dr. Michael Diringer leads this effort in his role as chief research mentor. Fellows meet with Dr. Diringer and additional staff mentors regularly throughout their training to receive research guidance. Our fellows have successfully applied for grants during fellowship, presented at international conferences, and published their research in peer-reviewed journals. We look forward to discussing your ideas!

Research fellowship

A 3-year research and clinical fellowship is available for exceptionally-motivated trainees seeking a career as a research neurointensivist. This fellowship is unique in combining rigorous clinical training with strategic blocks of independent research time and intensive mentorship. Graduates of this fellowship will have a successful track record of publication and grant funding, and be equipped to start a career with a developed scientific skill set and focus. 2. For more information- please contact fellowship director Baback Arshi.

Faculty Research Interests

Rajat Dhar, MD

Cerebral edema, imaging, genetics, and PET physiology
My bibliography link
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Terrance Kummer, MD, PhD

Acute vascular and traumatic brain injury, animal models, diffusion MRI approaches, cerebral metabolism, bench-to-bedside translation
My bibliography link
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Peter Kang headshot

Peter Kang, MD

Cerebrovascular physiology, cerebral small vessel disease, and the relationship between cognitive impairment and critical illness
My bibliography link

Asher Albertson headshot

Asher Albertson MD, PhD

Molecular, cellular, and network changes associated with recovery after stroke and severe brain injury
My bibliography link


Chia-Ling Phuah, MD, PhD

Stroke genetics
My bibliography link


Michael Diringer, MD

Subarachnoid hemorrhage, intracerebral hemorrhage, PET physiology
My bibliography link

Clinical Research Coordinator

Porche Braun, RN, BSN

Porche Braun works with faculty in the NNICU to coordinate clinical studies and ongoing clinical trials. Current studies include examinations of lung function after brain death, neurocritical care database management, and the following clinical trials:

Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel-Group, Multicenter Phase 3 Study to Evaluate the Efficacy and Safety of Intravenous BIIB093 (Glibenclamide) for Severe Cerebral Edema Following Large Hemispheric Infarction
PI: Rajat Dhar

A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of intravenous ganaxolone in status epilepticus
PI: Rajat Dhar, Chai-Ling Phuah

COVID-19 Neuro Databank/Biobank
This study is to create a data repository (NeuroDataBank) and an associated biospecimen repository (NeuroBiobank) for patients experiencing new neurological conditions, or worsening neurological conditions, associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection.
PI: Rajat Dhar