NC Times profiled a medical researcher-and former soldier-who is calling for stepped up efforts to develop real treatments that might help soldiers who experience brain injuries on the battlefield. The researcher, Kevin “Kit” Parker, was in charge of a group at Harvard that recently published new information about how certain battlefield blasts can lead to traumatic brain injuries. The new information was warmly welcomed by many in the scientific community. However, the wide coverage notwithstanding, the researcher has been disappointed that the findings have not been more vigorously used by those in a position to turn the information into treatments.
Specifically, the professor noted that no drug companies have been interested in taking the research to create new battlefield treatments. As our Chicago brain injury lawyers have often covered on this blog, blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan have affected tens of thousands of soldiers. Brain injuries are known as the “trademark” injury for both wars. The U.S. Department of Defense has stated that over 220,000 soldiers have experienced traumatic brain injuries since the two wars began over a decade ago. These injuries are particularly insidious because they are hard to detect and many victims may never fully understand the consequences of the injury. That is because they cannot be seen from the outside. The soldiers who suffer a TBI often have a perfectly intact body.
Considering the scope and severity of the problem, coming up with better diagnostic, treatment, and prevention measures is crucial.
The researcher profiled in this story wanted to learn more about exactly how the injuries were sustained. To do so his team built a simulator that can deliver an exact amount of force into the nerve cells of test rats. The impact was observed microscopically. In this way, the experiment allowed researchers to actually watch the shock wave travel through the brain cells and cause damage. They saw how the force led to swelling and other damage to certain parts of the cell-like the dendrites and axons. These are structures involved in communication between cells in the brain.
The study allowed researchers to identify that the damaging wave seemed to travel along structures known as “integrins.” These are protein strings which act as a pathway in certain cells.
However, even more encouragingly, researchers found that administration of a drug called Rho-kinase after the blast was particularly helpful in reducing the overall amount of injury sustained. Down the road this information could have very real effects on battlefield first aid. Providing this immediate drug after a bomb blast, for example, might prevent widespread brain cell damage that might one day manifest in any number of brain problems-like Alzheimer’s.
Our Chicago brain injury lawyers appreciate the scope of the findings and the possibility to save much suffering. However, more needs to fall in place for that to actually work. For one thing, the doctor hasn’t had much luck getting drug companies interested in the product. He suggest that more information about traumatic brain injuries generally must be uncovered before the companies will likely invest the resources and time necessary to make the treatment possible.
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