How a Bomb Blast Injures the Brain – Understanding TBI

Kevin Kit Parker, the Thomas D. Cabot Associate Professor of Applied Science and Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, is researching traumatic brain injury.Photograph by Jon Chase/Harvard News Office

Former Army Maj. Kevin Kit Parker, now a professor at Harvard, has published groundbreaking research describing how blasts injure the brain.

The Harvard News writes:

Parker and his team found that when the brain is subjected to a loud, explosive force, fragile tissue slams against the skull, resulting in a surge in blood pressure that stretches blood-vessel walls beyond their normal limit.

Parker said data collected directly on the battlefield can  be key to understanding even subtle traumatic brain injury.

Seth Robbins writes about Parker’s research in a recent Stars and Stripes story that the military is using several new technologies in Afghanistan to gather battlefield data:

  • Soldiers are being outfitted with high-tech gauges that can detect a blast’s severity and alert medics on site that a soldier has been exposed to shock waves.
  • Armored vehicles are equipped with sensors that connect to each vehicle’s “black box,” which measures and stores information on blasts.
  • Two advanced magnetic resonance imaging units have been sent to Afghanistan, marking the first time such sophisticated diagnostic machines have been used in a war zone. Until now, troops couldn’t get MRI scans of their brains before arriving at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the main hub for servicemembers injured downrange.

A Science Magazine article gives a more detailed description of how a bomb blast injures brain cells. Parker built a blast simulator and studied the results on the brain neurons of a rat:

Through a microscope, the researchers saw that the “blast” caused swelling, breakage, and other signs of injuries to the neurons’ spindly axons and dendrites, which send and receive signals from other neurons. A series of biochemical experiments found that the mechanical force disrupted proteins called integrins that help anchor cells to the scaffold of protein that surrounds them.

You can read the full Science Magazine article HERE.

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