American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 14, 2013 – The Defense Department has established the world's first brain tissue repository to help researchers understand the underlying mechanisms of traumatic brain injury in service members, Pentagon officials announced yesterday.
The announcement follows a symposium that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel convened, in which a group of senior defense officials and experts in the medical field and from outside organizations discussed advancements and areas of collaboration regarding traumatic brain injury.
"We have been at war for more than a decade, and our men and women have sacrificed," said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. "The military health care system is bringing all the resources it can to better understand how to prevent, diagnose and treat traumatic brain injuries and to ensure that service members have productive and long, quality lives.
“Our research efforts and treatment protocols are all geared toward improving care for these victims,” Woodson continued. “And that will have benefits to the American public at large."
The Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine Brain Tissue Repository for Traumatic Brain Injury was established at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., with a multiyear grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command to advance the understanding and treatment of TBI in service members.
"Little is known about the long-term effects of traumatic brain injury on military service members," said Dr. Daniel Perl, a neuropathologist and director of the brain tissue repository. "By studying these tissues, along with access to clinical information associated with them, we hope to more rapidly address the biologic mechanisms by which head trauma leads to chronic traumatic encephalopathy."
CTE is a neurodegenerative disorder that involves the progressive accumulation of the protein tau in nerve cells within certain regions of the brain. As the tau protein accumulates, it disturbs function and appears to lead to symptoms seen in affected patients such as boxers and, more recently, football players with multiple head trauma.
Defense Department researchers will look at the brain tissue samples to characterize the neuropathologic features of TBI in service members. Important questions to be addressed include "What does blast exposure do to the brain?" and "Do the different forms of brain injury experienced in the military lead to CTE?"
Service members exposed to blasts "are coming home with troubling, persistent problems and we don't know the nature of this, whether it's related to psychiatric responses from engagement in warfare or related to actual damage to the brain, as seen in football players," Perl said. "We hope to address these findings and develop approaches to detecting accumulated tau in the living individual as a means of diagnosing CTE during life -- and, ultimately, create better therapies or ways to prevent the injury in the first place."
"We are learning though the process of discovery the effects of repetitive mild traumatic brain injury, and also how to prevent this issue of chronic traumatic encephalopathy," Woodson said. "The brain tissue repository will enable us to learn even more about how we can treat injuries and prevent future calamity for service members."