The vast majority of traumatic brain injuries are the result of blunt force trauma – striking your head against either the ground or an object. This can also be caused by whiplash-like motions that cause the brain to bounce against the inside of the skull.
However, a number of brain injuries – particularly those endured by members of the military overseas – are caused by the shockwave of an explosion. These blast-related traumatic brain injuries (bTBI) are one of the most common injuries in recent military conflicts.
While blunt force-related TBIs typically damage a single area or region of the brain, bTBI is unique in that damage is spread throughout the entire brain. This causes more damage and complicates treatment for an injury that is already infamously complex.
Those who experience bTBI often report problems with anxiety, depression, memory problems, and sleep disturbances.
Currently, there are no clear treatment methods for bTBI aside from rest. Dr. Robert Dickinson believes that may change soon, though, as he and colleagues from Imperial College London have found xenon gas may help reduce damage from blast-related traumatic brain injury.
The researchers have previously shown that xenon gas can reduce damage and improve long-term outcomes in mice which blunt force-related TBI. Now, they’ve replicated the study with similar results in mice with blast-related brain injury according to a report in the Journal of Neurotrauma.
In the study, the team applied xenon to slices of mouse brain tissue after exposing them to blast shockwaves similar to those caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Using a dye that binds to damaged brain cells, they were able to monitor the development of brain injury up to three days after blast exposure.
The researchers compared slices from mice who received the gas against untreated mice with bTBI starting one hour after exposing them to blast shockwaves. They then assessed the samples every 24 hours.
The results of the experiment showed that slices treated with xenon gas showed significantly less damage from blast-induced injury compared to the untreated slices. They remained largely the same as control slices from healthy mice, even 72 hours after exposure to the gas.
Xenon can take effect within minutes of inhalation, so the researchers indicate it may be useful to prevent secondary injury after bTBI.
Lead author Dr. Rita Campos-Pires from Imperial explained, “One of the most insidious aspects of TBI in general, and it is believed bTBI also, is that the damage can continue to grow long after the initial injury. The secondary injury can be many times worse than the primary injury, so our goal is to stop the damage from spreading as early as possible.”