Scientists have discovered a mechanism underlying the type of brain injury that soldiers often suffer as a result of roadside explosions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The work could point the way toward early treatment for these acute blast injuries by identifying potential drug targets.
Two new papers from the Disease Biophysics Group at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, led by Kevin "Kit" Parker, use tissue-engineering techniques to model the physical and biochemical effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) in the brain and blood vessels. Parker says the work represents a first step toward a "TBI on a chip" that could be used to screen for drugs to treat blast-injured soldiers before long-term damage sets in.
TBI induced by blasts from improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades is the most common injury among soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even mild TBI is an insidious injury, because it damages the brain in ways that aren't immediately apparent and that physicians currently can do little to treat. It's commonly believed that the injury damages the brain by stretching neurons to their breaking point, ripping small holes in the cell membrane that eventually kill the cells. But Parker says his team found that it wasn't necessary to harm the membrane to induce TBI-like injuries in the cell.