Brain Trauma Experts Talk Impact, Emerging Care Options
The health and longevity of the human brain took center stage at the 2015 Military Health System Research Symposium during a media roundtable event Aug. 19 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, featuring several of the country's premier experts on traumatic brain injury.
The roundtable, entitled "TBI Research Across the Spectrum of Severity: From the Battlefield to the Athletic Field," focused chiefly on emerging techniques in both diagnosis and care of TBI in both military and athletic settings.
"The mechanisms are similar," said Dr. Thomas McAllister, co-chair of the joint NCAA-Department of Defense Concussion Assessment Research Education Consortium, referring to a landmark $30 million initiative to study head injuries in both student-athletes and military service members. "In both cases we're dealing with young, healthy, highly-trained people engaging in high-risk behaviors."
"These problems are so complex that they require large studies, and that's exactly what the military needs," said Col. Dallas Hack, Senior Medical Advisor to the Principal Assistant for Research and Technology for the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. Hack addressed the DOD's stated intent to continue funding TBI research efforts despite the conclusion of combat operations in the Middle East.
Col. Todd Rasmussen, director of the Combat Casualty Care Research Program, added, "Historically, the major advances that have been made to improve the health and welfare of our society have often taken decades. They haven't just been short-term scientific projects."
With regard to emerging care options for people suffering from TBI, the assembled experts agreed with the DOD's current multi-pronged approach, which uses both pharmacological and materiel solutions to combat the effects of TBI. Products such as the Defense Automated Neurobehavioral Assessment, or DANA, tool, which essentially acts as a brain thermometer, are developed alongside more clinically-based efforts such as light therapy, in which TBI patients are exposed to low levels of near-infra-red light for a set period of time in an effort to restore damaged tissue or cells. A clinical trial phase for the first-ever blood test for TBI is set for completion in March 2016, according to Hack.
"It's kind of like managing your 401(k) portfolio," said Dr. Terry Rauch, director of Medical Research for the Office of Health Affairs, regarding the multi-pronged strategy, "You want to be somewhat diversified in your approach."
According to the assembled experts, increased focus and attention on TBI will be just as important in the coming years as the systematic approach used to combat the problem.
Added Katherine Helmick, deputy director of the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, "It's the brain that makes us who we are, even more so than the heart."