In fact, more than 270,000 soldiers have been affected since 2000, making TBI “the signature wound of Iraq and Afghanistan.” Symptoms can persist for years after the initial injury – which is often caused by exposure to a blast, such as an improvised explosive device – and patients are plagued with a variety of ailments, including hearing and memory problems, trouble sleeping, lack of self-control and mood changes. Even so, there is still very little known about ways to diagnose and treat TBI, or the long term effects of TBI on brain tissue and function.
But that’s about to change.
Last month, the Department of Defense established The Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine Brain Tissue Repository, the world’s first brain biobank, to help better understand TBI in service members. Located at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, this biobank will help researchers unlock the biological mechanisms associated with TBI and guide innovative forms of treatment.
Here are the top five things you need to know about the DoD brain biobank:
Why is a biobank required to research TBI? Long term effects of TBI are believed to be related to chronic traumatic encephalophathy (CTE), a progressive neurodegenerative disorder eventually leading to brain cell death. Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed postmortem through examination of brain tissue. Recent research has shown CTE can be caused by a single exposure to a blast, so the disorder is of particular interest to the DoD.
Where will the brains come from? Brains will be primarily donated from deceased service members with a history of TBI, but control samples will also be collected from people without an injury. For more information on brain donation, check out the biobank’s donation page.
What are the goals of the biobank and research effort? The brain tissue repository will support CNRM’s research into TBI. CNRM is developing improved ways to diagnose TBI, models of the brain after an injury and programs to improve rehabilitation.
How will the brains be studied? Brain tissue will be analyzed along with clinical information about the donor, such as the intensity and number of blasts the soldier was exposed to and the symptoms they experienced later in life.
Are there similarities between brain injuries suffered by service members and athletes? Athletes in contact sports can develop TBI and CTE. However, athletes may experience many “smaller-scale” head injuries and concussions before showing symptoms, whereas a single IED blast can leave a soldier with a serious TBI. In any case, research aided by the new biobank will be helpful for soldiers and civilians alike.
“We have been at war for more than a decade and our men and women have sacrificed,” Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense (health affairs) and director, TRICARE Management Activity, concluded. “The military health care system is bringing all the resources it can to better understand how to prevent, diagnose and treat traumatic brain injuries and to ensure that service members have productive and long, quality lives. Our research efforts and treatment protocols are all geared toward improving care for these victims. And that will have benefits to the American public, at large.”
What other conditions should have dedicated biobanks? Share your thoughts in the comments below!