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Experts explore shockwave link to brain injury in veterans

A study funded by a $1.24 million grant from the Office of Naval Research Warfighter Performance Department may change the way that physicians look for brain injuries incurred in combat. A collaborative team will explore the relationship of shockwaves to these war-related injuries.

Traumatic brain injuries are often undetected and untreated. However, almost 300,000 Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans returned with TBI symptoms.

The brain is susceptible to damage from shockwaves, which travel faster than the speed of sound. A soldier is not well protected against shockwaves even if he or she is protected from the blast itself.

The scientific hypothesis is that shockwaves may form tiny bubbles called microcavitation in the brain. These bubbles create tremendous force when they collapse, causing damage to brain tissue. Pressurized bubbles may also appear in blood vessels in the brain and may affect the blood-brain-barrier which allows some molecules to cross from the bloodstream into the brain while blocking other molecules. When this occurs, the blood brain barrier's mechanical and structural integrity may be compromised and cause brain injury.

Evidence indicates that this damage is too small to be measured by brain scans. Accordingly, the research will apply multi-modal imaging methods and microfabrication technology to monitor cellular and sub-cellular responses caused by shockwaves and microcavitation. The team will use tissue-engineered brain models to conduct this research in real-time.

Researchers believe that once the cause of the blood barrier damage is established, treatment strategies can be created. Additional research models will be used to determine whether microcavitation is causing damage to the blood-brain-barrier.

The team is comprised of experts from the University of Texas at Arlington, Old Dominion University, Purdue University and the UTA Research Institute. The grant is for three years.

As this research develops into these and other veterans' issues, legal assistance may be needed to assure that veterans receive long-term medical care and other benefits. Legal representation can help navigate the bureaucratic and legal hurdles blocking the right to benefits.

Source:, "Collaborative team to determine mechanisms that cause traumatic brain injuries due to shockwaves," Dec. 24, 2015

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