|Combat veterans, now equipped with better body armor and armored vehicles, are surviving injuries that were once fatal, but are often returning from war zones with brain injuries. For those who are shown a conventional image of their brain that reveals no damage, it can be extremely frustrating that science cannot demonstrate what they know -- that they suffer from cognitive impairment.
Scientists once believed that an injured brain was irreversibly damaged and that its function could not be recovered after being lost. It now appears, however, that the brain has the remarkable ability to rewire itself - if one pathway is damaged, another may be able to take over. With better images of the brain, we may be able to identify specific areas of the brain that can adapt to injury.
Recently, the U.S. Department of Defense funded a $5.3 million study at Saint Louis University to address this problem, aiming to improve the care of patients with brain injuries. Under the leadership of Richard Bucholz, M.D., a world renowned neurosurgeon, we will gather data using several types of advanced imaging technology simultaneously to create better maps of the brain.
Veterans with combat injuries who would like to find out whether they qualify to participate in the study should call the Saint Louis University Advanced Neurosurgical Innovation Center (SANIC) at (314) 977-8560 to speak with a member of the research team or send an email here. SANIC is located at 1320 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63104 on the Saint Louis University Medical Center campus.
If we can show soldiers a map of their brain and point to a location that is causing memory loss or if we can tell a football player with a concussion he needs to sit out the next game to avoid further damage, we will have made real strides in understanding these injuries and improve chances for both prevention and recovery.
Commentary by Col. Jeffrey Bailey, M.D.
Bailey is a U.S. Air Force colonel and director of Center for Sustainment of Trauma and Readiness Skills (C-STARS) and an associate professor of surgery at Saint Louis University. He has served two tours of duty as chief of trauma at the U.S. Air Force Theater Hospital in Balad, Iraq.