A Missouri research consortium studying traumatic brain injury (TBI) that includes Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Missouri University of Science and Technology, and the Leonard Wood Institute (LWI) is advancing how TBI is diagnosed and treated, according to a recent “Battle for the Brain” Missouri S&T feature article.
The consortium, officially the Acute Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium (AENC), was originally formed in a joint effort between founding partners Phelps Health and LWI as a TBI research arm. The founders worked with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) to secure $10 million in federal funding and Missouri S&T University joined the effort in 2018.
Today the consortium also includes the University of Missouri campuses in Columbia and Kansas City, along with Washington University in St. Louis.
All are committed to the prevention, detection or treatment of “acute” (short-term) TBI.
For the military, the earlier TBI is detected it is better for both service members’ well-being, and for dealing with its associated costs. The Army spends about $77,000 to train a soldier and the service estimates 600 to 800 recruits at Fort Leonard Wood experience TBI each year, though only 200 to 250 are reported, according to the article.
The Army also estimates that 85% of its TBI cases occur during training, with Fort Leonard Wood recruits commonly enduring high levels of blast waves while firing heavy weapons, according to Barry White, executive director of AENC.
Additionally, hundreds of thousands of soldiers across the nation suffer from TBI, according to a 2018 report from the Center for a New American Security, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
Undiagnosed or untreated, TBI can later lead to dementia, according to a 2018 study in the American Medical Association’s journal JAMA Neurology. Even with brain science advancements including brain-mapping and further Alzheimer’s research, progress has been difficult to understand or treat TBI.
“Diagnosis is still in the Model T era, and so is treatment,” said Dr. Donald James, AENC board chair and senior vice president of research and government affairs at Phelps Health, according to the article.
The consortium’s contributions could result in a portable kit the military could use to detect TBI during training or on the battlefield. Other contributions could result in sensor-embedded helmets that could detect TBI, and another helmet that could better protect soldiers or recruits from head injuries.
In addition to military uses, the consortium’s contributions could improve how TBI is detected and treated among civilians. TBI is linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s and post-traumatic stress disorder, so early diagnosis or treatments could prevent future chronic conditions, according to the article.
“If we can mitigate brain cell death, that will be the first big step,” James said. “Then we can look at other applications.”
Air Force photo by Senior Airman Janiqua Robinson