Although there have been many reports about athletes and soldiers suffering from traumatic brain injuries, scientists have recently recognized a new kind of brain disease. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) can occur from repeated knocks on the head. According to the Marine Times, with the opening of the new brain bank in the Washington suburbs, researchers will be able to study the brains of deceased soldiers who were exposed to blast waves in order to discover more effective treatments for CTE and other injuries.
This year, scientists conducted a small study that looked at the brains of four military members and found evidence for CTE. While it’s similar to TBI, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, CTE is a different degenerative condition that can start months or years after brain trauma has occurred. Repetitive hits or blasts to the head that cause injury can lead to a destructive buildup of a tau protein, which is indicative of CTE and can only be determined in an autopsy.
A study of football players who had CTE showed that their brains’ fluid-filled cavities expanded and their medial temporal lobes shrunk when compared with healthy brains. NFL players who were found to have suffered from CTE exhibited aggressive behavior, memory loss and suicidal thoughts.
Military officials opened the brain bank as part of a joint project of the Defense Department and the National Institutes of Health to create the new $70 million Center for the Study of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine. Since brains decay rapidly after death, the brains will have to be collected quickly, and officials hope the donation process will work in a similar way to the donation of vital organs. Although the bank has only collected one brain, officials are discussing the process to educate troops and their families about consenting to the process after the death of a solider.
Improvised explosive device blasts can lead to CTE, as well as other brain diseases that can change the lives of soldiers and even result in their deaths. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and Director, Dr. Jonathan Woodson, explained the goal of the new brain bank: “The whole idea is to understand not only what’s happening, but what magnitude of injury might precipitate this (brain damage) and how we might intervene.”