2020 Tillman Scholar

James Hentig

University of Notre Dame

“From patient to Ph.D:  After suffering a traumatic brain injury, I have dedicated my life to exploring therapeutic options that restore neurological function and provide neuronal protection.”

Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) affect 100 million people around the world annually and contribute to other neurological disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Military service members are particularly at risk for TBI. 

James joined the Army following high school, serving as an airborne combat medic and while deployed to Afghanistan with the 173rd Airborne in late 2009, he witnessed and treated numerous TBI even becoming a victim of one himself. Those experiences motivated James to go from patient to Ph.D.—becoming the catalyst that led him to the field of neuroscience and the foundation of his education, his research and his volunteer work.

Following medical retirement in 2012, James attended Western Michigan University where he received his B.S. in biology and chemistry minor with concentration in neuroscience. As an undergraduate he began his scientific career investigating therapeutic candidates following trauma to the central nervous system, publishing a first-author paper identifying neuronal protection in the adult zebrafish following damage. 

James is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Notre Dame, where he has developed a novel blunt-force TBI model in regenerative zebrafish allowing for the examination of both the injury and the regenerative recovery. His work has been nationally recognized by the National Science Foundation, and he has identified injury-induced activated regeneration, the originating regenerative source, and replacement of lost and damaged brain tissue. He aims to further understand the complex gene regulation providing a potential neuroprotective and regenerative therapeutic to at-risk populations such as service members.