It seems that there are few areas of medical research attracting as much attention in recent months as those involving the brain. This probably should not be surprising, because the organ represents the least-charted part of the body yet. The complexity of the brain is such that there is still so much to be learned, and intrepid researchers interested in exploring uncharted territory and making advances that improve lives can likely find no more fruitful subject than the brain.
Their discoveries and the treatments that grow out of those developments are quite unique. For example, Pop Science explained recently about a new brain injury treatment device that “zaps” the tongue in order to re-build neural connections. The small machine is a reminder of the seemingly-bizarre nature of so many brain injury treatment issues. We truly do not know what will come next, but all advances that may help the lives of the those who experienced a brain injury are welcome.
Helping Soldiers Following a TBI
The tongue zapping device was developed primarily to help soldiers who suffer a traumatic brain injury. Known as the Portable NeuroModulation Stimulator (PoNS), the device works by stimulating the tongue with zaps, with the hope that the stimulation of the nerves on the tongue will send signals to the brain to build up neural connection that might have been lost as a result of a traumatic brain injury.
The PoNS works by having being used during exercises targeting the particular soldier’s unique deficits. The exercises last for twenty to thirty minutes. Over the course of that time the device stimulates nerve ending on the tongue in ways that correspond to the deficits. The idea is that the simulation will spur the brain to fix itself with re-built neural connections. This might be thought of as repairing roadways in the mind damaged during the trauma that led to the injury.
The product was created by a company with funding from the U.S. Army. As we have often discussed, traumatic brain injury is “the signature” injury of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Exposure to roadside bomb blasts and other forceful incidents, have left tens of thousands of soldiers with internal head injury. The brain trauma is an incredibly difficult injury to manage, because the scope of the consequence are varied. Unlike a broken bone, which can be cast or a cut which can be stitched, a TBI affects connections inside a brain, and there are no quick fixes.
As reported in the story, the U.S. Army suggests that an astounding quarter of a million soldiers have suffered a TBI in the last twelve years over the course of the most recent fighting. Many of those soldiers face a range of problems, including memory loss, balance issues, difficulty with coordination, and even personality alterations. Hopefully this device and other treatments developed by medical professionals will work to ease some of these burdens and help get our servicemembers back to full health.
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