The Department of Defense has awarded a consortium of Houston institutions a $33 million grant to investigate mild traumatic brain injury (Mild TBI), or concussion, the potential severity of which has long been underappreciated.
The grant is aimed at gaining a better understanding and improving treatment of the injury that afflicts about 1.5 million Americans a year and is considered one of the Iraq war's signature wounds. "We always thought mild traumatic brain injury wasn't that serious," said Dr. Alex Valadka, a neurosurgeon at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and one of the project's lead investigators. "But we're coming to find it can lead to serious long-term problems."
The grant was awarded to Mission Connect, a Houston collaborative research organization that unites scientists at UT Health Science Center at Houston, UT Medical Branch at Galveston, Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University and the Transitional Learning Center at Galveston. Traumatic brain injury is receiving increased attention because the advances in medical care in Iraq that have yielded unprecedented survival rates which in turn has resulted in more disabled veterans.
No other war has sent home so many veterans with brain injuries, most of which are from blast explosions. The affected in such blasts include those who seemingly escape serious injury. Soldiers have reported impaired memory, speech and problem-solving and mood changes including depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior and outbursts.
In civilian life, mild traumatic brain injuries are typically suffered in automotive and home or sports accidents. Valadka said one emphasis of the research will be to determine if the mild traumatic brain injury suffered in blast explosions is similar to such civilian injuries. If so, the research will have great applicability, he said.
Valadka said the grant will enable researchers to create better animal models of brain injury, improve diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injury and develop innovative treatment. No specific treatment exists beyond rest, mostly because obvious symptoms, such as headaches, typically go away with time. But the neurological changes that follow are poorly understood, said Valadka. It is not known, for instance, whether multiple concussions can leave sufferers at greater risk, of
say, Alzheimer's disease. Valadka said a better understanding of Mild TBI should lead to treatment and prevention of any damage.
The research project began in July 2008 and will end in June 2013.