Brain researchers at Boston University and the Sports Legacy Institute in Massachusetts are conducting studies to explore potential links between brain dysfunction in combat veterans and similar cognitive decline experienced by football players.
Researchers posit that combat veterans who experience symptoms of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) may have sustained severe damage to their brains, not from physical damage, but from shockwaves caused by explosions.
The research teams are looking for specific kinds of long-term brain damage signified by the build up of toxic proteins and neurofibrillary tangles, which do not show up in CT scans and MRIs. In order to gather the necessary data, the scientists must collect and analyze the donated brains of more than 20 combat veterans.
They will compare their findings with data on brain damage in football players’ brains to investigate how forces from bomb blasts can lead to physical brain damage, even in the absence of physical impacts to the head.
This research on the brains of military personnel promises to shed some light on the mystery of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as well as other mental and emotional struggles of veterans long after their tours of duty.
The study was inspired by the observation that many of the symptoms of PTSD and cognitive dysfunction in veterans were similar to those experienced by football players who had sustained repeated head impact over their careers.
research institutes hope to discover the nature of the physical damage sustained by soldiers in non-impact explosions.
If the institutes do prove that shockwaves from explosions cause physical brain damage, combat veterans could be rewarded not only purple hearts, which are currently given only to soldiers injured physically in battle, but also proper recognition, expanded disability benefits and more advantageous treatment of their conditions.
While the focus remains on the brains of combat veterans, the benefits of such studies may ripple out into the general population in the form of greater knowledge of how the brain responds to trauma and injury and possible treatments for resulting conditions.
Even though the scientists are eager to continue their research, it advances slowly due in part to the difficulty and sensitivity involved in collecting brains from donors upon their deaths.
Boston University and the Sports Legacy Institute are paying for the studies, and while the U.S. military supports them, they have not yet contributed to the research financially.