September 2018 – As reported by 60 Minutes earlier this year and again this month, science is shedding new light on the impact of blasts and other blows to the head suffered by combat veterans. The degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) is more closely associated with football players who have experienced concussions on the field, but research is now showing that CTE is an “invisible injury” affecting over 300,000 service veterans.
Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at the VA Boston University Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank, is spearheading the research in CTE and head trauma. In the past 14 years, Dr. McKee has examined the postmortem brains of 100’s of athletes who endured concussions in their particular sport.
Dr. McKee’s findings rattled the professional football community last summer, when she reported that 110 of 111 brains of NFL players she studied, had CTE. Today, there are the same patterns showing up in the brains of deceased veterans, who suffered head trauma of different kind – combat blasts. Dr. McKee examined 125 veterans’ brains, 74 had CTE.
The term “Shell Shock” was used during World War I to explain the deaths of soldiers or their physical and psychological conditions, after being exposed to blasts during the war. The men and women of today’s military are able to walk away from potentially lethal explosions due to their body armor and sophisticated equipment, but combat blasts can still damage the brain, which becomes an invisible injury that may become fatal over time.
At a Boston University lab, Dr. Lee Goldstein has been testing on mice, in order to build upon Dr. McKee’s work. Using a 27-foot blast tube, Dr. Goldstein is able to subject a mouse to an explosion, like those experienced by combat veterans subject to IED blasts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
His findings show that after the mice experience these blasts, they actually look fine, which was surprising to the research team. The mice are subject to near lethal blast exposures, similar to what our military service men and women are. Even though the mice appear to be physically fine, what is now known is that the brain is not the same after the blast exposure.
According to Dr. Goldstein, “This is a disease and a problem that we’re going to be dealing with for decades. And it’s a huge public health problem. It’s a huge problem for the Veterans Administration. It’s a huge moral responsibility for all of us.”
Dr. Sam Gandy, a neurologist at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, is using PET scans in conjunction with MRI results to test for CTE in the living. Over the course of the last year, 50 athletes and combat veterans have undergone tests for the disease. High resolution images of the brain from a 20 minute PET scan are combined with MRI results to render a 360-degree virtual map of the brain to identify any potential signs for CTE.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for CTE.
If you are a combat veteran or the loved one of a veteran you believe is suffering with CTE, please use the “Contact Us” page or call us at 888-231-9144.
Since the 60 Minutes story first aired, over 100 veterans have contacted Dr. Gandy to enroll in ongoing trials to identify whether they are living with CTE and more than 300 have reached out to Dr. McKee to donate their brains to research.
To read the full story, go to: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-combat-veterans-coming-home-with-cte-brain-injury/