FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo.–According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year 2.2 million people visit the emergency room with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
It’s one of the reasons why Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is partnering with Phelps County Regional Medical Center and the U.S. Army at Fort Leonard Wood to conduct research on how to prevent and treat TBI’s.
The research is part of an agreement called the Acute Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium where a group of 80 researchers across the state will develop ways on how to prevent, detect, and treat TBI’s.
Each year, 80,000 soldiers go through training at Ft. Leonard Wood. Out of those 80,000, there’s no question that the intense training will lead to traumatic brain injuries.
“You blow things up, you roll things over, you do hand to hand combat, and take people to the ground. You have a higher opportunity for some kind of concussive event to occur. We know that’s going to happen, don’t know how many of those happen each year,” says Kent Thomas, executive director of Leonard Wood Institute.
So one of the things that Thomas and Barry White of Phelps County Regional Medical Center are doing is facilitating researchers who can better detect TBI’s.
“Right now, if you get hit on the head, one of your sergeants has got to take you to the hospital or medical aid station so they can do an evaluation on you,” says Thomas.
Over at Missouri S&T, technology is being developed to provide a solution to the inconvenience. Casey Burton, director of medical research at Phelps County Regional Medical Center, explains how urine samples would help.
“Behind me, we have a mass spectrometer that we use to look at hundreds of biomarkers simultaneously,” says Burton. “We can take these hundreds of biomarkers, look at urine samples collected at Ft. Leonard Wood and pick out the best 10 or 20 that work for detecting traumatic brain injury. We can then translate that biomarker panel to the “P-scan” technology.”
“Myself and my students work together to build an instrument called a “P-scan”, says Dr. Yinfa Ma, a chemistry professor at Missouri S&T.
It’s through that “P-scan” which chemistry professor Dr. Ma can determine the level of brain damage right there on the training field.
“This is really convenient and simple and it’s not invasive. You can really get data on the training ground basically take about 10 minutes and find data already and can tell you whether a soldier has a real severe injury or not injured. Up to this point, really have no early detection for TBI biomarkers in the field,” says Dr. Ma.
“How great would it be if we could identify that a concussive event has happened and immediately treat it so then the impact is far lower than the way we would normally do things,” says Thomas of the Leonard Wood Institute.
“It’s a little bit scary at this point, but I think we’re the first ones to ever do this. I don’t know of another entity that is studying exclusively TBI’s and I’m not sure of one that’s on a military installation at this point,” says Phelps County Regional Medical Center’s White.
Missouri S&T is also testing explosives on the campus mine to determine it’s impact on the brain and how damage can be prevented. Dr. Catherine Johnson, assistant professor of explosives engineering explains.
“Accurately model what’s happening in the field and hopefully in the long term is really to either prevent, get our soldiers out of situations that might result in a traumatic brain injury. Really what we’re doing is looking at all different scenarios that might be the biggest contributor to traumatic brain injury so either through reflections off of walls or just open air. We can mimic all that,” says Dr. Johnson.
There’s no exact timetable on when the research will be implemented. It still needs to be approved and funded by various entities like the National Institute of Health and Army Research Laboratory.
Brea Douglas of Missourinet media partner KOLR-TV contributed this story