An attempt to replicate a form of traumatic brain injury commonly seen in combat veterans in laboratory experiments may also have identified a new diagnostic tool which would greatly improve early detection for the difficult to detect injury.
Estimates say one in five soldiers wounded in service have experienced TBI, and approximately 52 percent of those injuries are blast-induced neurotrauma. While more severe cases of this form of TBI are often identified, mild blast-induced neurotrauma is particularly difficult to identify because individuals who have experienced it often show no obvious motor impairment or other neurological symptoms, according to Riyi Shi, a professor in Purdue University’s Department of Basic Medical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, and Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.
“Many times they don’t even realize they’ve been injured, and this is particularly alarming because these injuries have been linked to severe long-term psychiatric and degenerative neurological dysfunction,” he said. “The underlying mechanisms of injury remain poorly understood, impeding development of diagnostic and treatment strategies.”
The initial injury is directly caused by the shock wave resulting from explosions, however, it is believed that a second wave of injury may follow in the days or even weeks following the initial injury. Researchers also believe this second wave of injury may be treatable or preventable if the injury is identified early enough.
To better research the injury, Shi’s team of researchers developed a method to mimic mild blast-induced neurotrauma in laboratory rats. The team hoped to produce a clinically relevant “animal model” which recreates the most common human symptom profiles and could be used to study the effects and mechanisms behind the ongoing damage that follows the initial injury.
According to the team’s report from their experiments, published in the Journal of Neurosurgery, not only did the team create a reliable model of this form of brain injury, they also found evidence suggesting a simple urine test could be used to diagnose the injury early and that the damaging effects could potentially be relieved through drug therapy that reduces the toxic compound produced by traumatized cells.
“Early detection and intervention could potentially mitigate or prevent delayed onset development of significant neurological dysfunction,” Shi said.
The team also says their findings provide further evidence that brain inflammation may signal ongoing damage which could potentially lead to altered brain function and neurodegenerative diseases.
“We detected structural and biochemical brain damage without obvious motor or cognitive deficits,” Shi said. “These findings highlight the difficulty and importance of early detection, indicating missed early diagnosis and subsequent lack of intervention could lead to serious long-term consequences.”