WSU biomedical researchers ramp up efforts to answer why so many soldiers are returning with traumatic brain injuriesMay 5, 2008
Wayne State University biomedical engineering researchers are stepping up research efforts to determine why so many soldiers are returning from Iraq after being exposed to the pressure wave caused by roadside bombs with symptoms often associated with mild to moderate trauma to the brain.
The WSU researchers are redoubling their efforts not only to determine the cause of the injuries, which include long-term headaches and memory lapses, but also treatment and prevention.
"The $790,000 grant we just received from the Office of Naval Research allows us to continue our efforts to investigate this critical issue that will potentially affect thousands of Americans as our soldiers return home," said Cynthia Bir, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and the lead investigator in their project called "Blast Induced Neurotrauma".
The injuries to US troops and bystanders are being called the signature wound of the Iraq War. Roadside bombs, also called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), are the cause of most cases of brain injury and account for almost 80 percent of all wounds to U.S. troops. Many troops caught near these explosions suffer symptoms such as perforated eardrums, ringing in the ears, blurred vision, memory lapses, headaches, and more long-lasting effects.
Bir and her co-investigators; Drs. Mark Haacke, John Hannigan and Pamela VandeVord, use a specially designed air-driven blast tube that simulates the features of what scientists call mTBI (mild traumatic brain injury) observed in human victims exposed to explosions.
Currently, methods to identify and treat soldiers with mild traumatic brain injury are lacking. There are key questions without answers: How is the pressure wave transmitted through the body? How is the pressure causing shock and injury to the brain cells?
"We suspect that the wave passes directly through the skull and causes high stresses to the brain, starting a process of cell death." said Pamela VandeVord, assistant professor of biomedical engineering). "When cells die, they give off proteins. If our theory is correct, we hope to be able to identify damage by administering a blood test to detect the proteins linked to the trauma caused by the blast."
The researchers will also be investigating the effectiveness of drugs both before and after exposure to the air blasts. "We understand that time is of the essence," said VandeVord. "Our goal is to identify a biomarker and an effective drug treatment that can be provided to the medical staff in the field as both preventative and treatment tools."
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