Cognitive function in combat veterans with repeated brain injury examined

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Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, New York, USA, in cooperation with Resurrecting Lives Foundation, are investigating the effect of repeated combat-related blast exposures on the brains of veterans with the goal of improving diagnostics and treatment

Mild traumatic brain injury can cause problems with cognition, concentration, memory and emotional control as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it says in a press release. Einstein scientists are using advanced MRI technology and psychological tests to investigate the structural and biological impact of repeated head injury on the brain and to assess how these injuries affect cognitive function.

“Right now, doctors diagnose concussion purely on the basis of someone’s symptoms,” says Michael Lipton, associate director of Einstein’s Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center, USA. “We hope that our research will lead to a more scientifically valid diagnostic technique—one that uses imaging to not only detect the underlying brain injury but reveal its severity. Such a technique could also objectively evaluate therapies aimed at healing the brain injuries responsible for concussions”.

The Einstein researchers are studying 20 veterans from Ohio and Michigan who were deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and have exhibited symptoms of repeated concussion. Twenty of the veterans’ siblings or cousins without concussion are acting as controls. The researchers are using an advanced MRI-based imaging technique called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to identify injured brain areas.

This imaging technique allows researchers to measure the uniformity of water movement (fractional anisotropy) throughout the brain. Abnormally low fractional anisotropy in white matter indicates axon damage and has previously been associated with cognitive impairment in patients with traumatic brain injury (the researchers also use DTI in an ongoing study of amateur football players to assess possible brain injury from repeatedly heading footballs).

The final group of veterans is scheduled to visit Einstein for testing in February 2014. Preliminary results should be available later this year, it says in the release. 

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