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New Study Sheds Light On How Repeated Blasts Can Damage The Brains of Combat Vets

John Moore
Sgt. Johnny Monroe from Abbeville, S.C, his helmet marked with his blood type and battle tracking number, watches as an Iraqi armored personel carrier burns at an Iraqi military compound south of Baghdad Friday, April 4, 2003.

A new study published in Science Translational Medicine shows which part of the human brain is most affected by repeated exposure to blasts and explosions. Researchers are using the findings to help military veterans who suffer from Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.  


The findings show that region of the brain that appears to be most vulnerable to repeated blasts is the cerebellum.


“We thought it was striking and interesting that when we asked computers to do correlations   between all the different brain regions. The only significant differences were seen in the cerebellum. I think it speaks to the sensitivity of that brain region to repetition. And mild, repetitive blast exposures are the big thing for our veterans,” said Dr. David Cooke, with the University of Washington and the study’s lead author.  


The cerebellum is located in the lower back part of the brain. It helps coordinate how we move. It’s also believed to affect a person’s emotional state. Many veterans who suffer from Mild Traumatic Brain Injury can be irritable and impulsive.  


Dr.  Elaine Peskind with the VA Puget Sound Healthcare System  co-authored the report.

She said these findings are helping her figure out better ways to treat the long term consequences of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.  


“What we are concerned about  is, do repetitive blast TBI’s predispose veterans’  risk for  what football players and boxers have increased risk for, disorders such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy and alzheimer's disease,” said Peskind.    


The 41 military veterans who participated in the study had their brains scanned. Researches also studied mice that were subjected to small explosions in a lab.


Using this new information, doctors at Seattle’s VA medical center are treating hundreds of vets in two trials that aim to reduce the effects of brain trauma.


Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.