The Military’s New Effort To Understand Traumatic Brain Injury: Take It To The Bank

The brain is the body’s most complex and important organ. Even minor injuries to the brain can result in massive, often permanent damage and a severe degradation of the victim’s quality of life. Despite the brain’s importance, it is also the least-understood organ in the human body. The sheer complexity and fragility of the brain makes any research program inherently difficult and frustrating. Brain injuries are often slow to develop and can present many different ways, making the development of a comprehensive system of treatment almost impossible.[1]

Experts may not have a full understanding of the progression and treatment of brain injuries, but they do know how they are caused. Even relatively minor trauma to the head can result in a devastating, life-changing traumatic brain injury. In recent years this has been one of the major problems confronted by the armed forces, whose personnel routinely encounter severe trauma. Blasts and explosions are one of the leading causes of traumatic brain injury, and in the past the armed services have struggled to provide the highly specialized and long-term care required by victims of these injuries. Often, a minor brain injury results in serious symptoms such as sleep deprivation, difficulty concentrating, mood disorders, or even suicidal tendencies. Exactly how brain injuries develop and cause these symptoms is not well-understood.[2]

To improve the standard of care offered to its wounded warriors the Pentagon is working to develop the new Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, a $70 million dollar facility located in Bethesda, Maryland. Within this new center one of the most exciting and promising initiatives is a brain tissue repository, or brain bank, dedicated to helping researchers better understand the effects of traumatic brain injury on veterans and improve their treatment efforts. The repository will offer researchers and doctors access to actual brain tissue, allowing them to run experiments and make observations on a cellular level that neural imaging simply cannot match. Furthermore, this repository is dedicated to collecting the brains of members of the armed services, allowing studies on the specific types of brain injury that most affect them.[3]

One goal of the bank is to study how brain injuries affect long-term emotional and neurological development; even among those who may be unaware they’ve suffered a brain injury. The blasts from IEDs or other trauma can lead to slow-developing dementia known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE can present with a wide variety of symptoms, including neurological symptoms that first appear years after the initial injury. Evidence of CTE has also been discovered in deceased NFL players and boxers, and proponents of the new repository hope to build on medical advances made by studying those two groups.[4]

Although the brain bank offers a promising method for collecting and studying brain tissue, it will fail without donations from service members. The bank hopes that service members will come to see the donation as akin to any other organ donation, with the same potential to save lives.

About the Author: Courtney Van Winkle is a partner with the personal injury law firm of Allen & Allen.  Her practice is focused on personal injury, brain injury cases and wrongful death claims. She has successfully resolved through trial and settlement many cases involving children.  As the mother of four children herself, Courtney is able to draw upon her own experiences to compassionately work with children. If you or a loved one have suffered a traumatic brain injury and need legal representation, click to learn more about the experienced brain injury attorneys at Allen & Allen.