Researchers Look for Ways to Prevent Traumatic Brain Injury

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One of the biggest threats to American soldiers fighting in the Middle East is implemented explosive devices (IEDs). Although IEDs oftentimes are lethal, if the victim survives, one of the most common injuries from an IED blast is traumatic brain injury.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is any injury that causes damage to the brain. Even minor cases are serious,  and it is not uncommon for moderate and severe cases to have lingering effects, such as amnesia, afflict the solider for years to come.

Unfortunately, TBI is becoming more common for soldiers on the battlefield today due to the widespread use of IEDs. Thankfully, there are a number of advances being made that not only reduce the chance of receiving a TBI, but also reduce recovery time in the event that they do.

One of the most important advances is the use of Kevlar armor. Although used primarily in body armor to prevent damage from shrapnel and small arms fire, Kevlar is also widely used in modern helmets.

The Kevlar in the helmets lowers the fatality rate for injuries that would normally be deadly, which has inadvertently caused an increase in TBI cases. The injuries that would’ve caused TBI without the Kevlar, however, are greatly reduced in severity, making Kevlar helmets a crucial tool in the fight against TBI.

Paul Taylor and John Ludwigsen, of Sandia’s Terminal Ballistics Technology Department, are using supercomputers to create simulations of soldier’s heads, then comparing the effectiveness of several different helmet designs against a simulation of an IED attack. Through this method they are able to determine which type of helmet offers the most protection in the most vital areas of the head.

Dr. Susan Okie, a medical journalist, has been studying the advances being made to prevent TBI, and is excited about the advances being made in the area of preventative testing.

“Doctors are more able to test for TBI and have become more aware that it can happen from a blast even if there hasn’t been a bullet, shrapnel, or something else going into the head,” Okie said in an interview with the New England Journal of Medicine. “With all of these tests, they can find out if someone has a TBI and of all of the blast patients that they’ve evaluated, 59 percent did have a TBI.”

While there will not be a surefire way to prevent all casualties from TBI in the foreseeable future, scientists are doing all they can to keep soldiers safe from brain injury.