Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE is a wasting disease of the brain and is all too often the outcome for combat veterans, subjected to explosions in the line of duty. It can also be a debilitating condition for athletes who suffer too many concussions in tackles and from blows in competition.
Researchers looking into CTE have discovered CTE to be a common factor in both athletes and improvised explosive device victims in Iraq and Afghanistan. They study it using mice, subjected to single explosions and recording brain condition over time. CTE becomes evident in days in the laboratory animals.
The study team, based at Boston University School of Medicine, report …“a profound and definitive way that there is an organic, structural problem in the brain associated with blast exposure,” in the journal, ‘Science Translational Medicine’. The report gives strong credibility to the belief that many returning soldiers have unseen brain injuries because of proximity to explosions. They are also at high risk of suffering chronic neurological disorders. This will have important ramifications for Department of Defence policy, veterans programs and planned research.
The study may well be the foundation for preventive therapies for explosion-related brain damage, drug treatment and improved diagnostic techniques. Currently, CTE is not curable and can only be confirmed by autopsy. The laboratory models built by the researchers, will simulate brain pathology and enable analysis and therapies for war veterans with brain trauma. For this reason, the research is being paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The report is also an important contribution to the debate that has continued for many years as to whether veterans with emotional challenges and psychological difficulties on return from war zones, actually suffer from psychiatric conditions or physical brain damage. Clearly, the report supports the view that many military veterans are likely to have organic brain injuries and deserve to be treated and compensated appropriately.
For a long time now it has been the accepted belief that Gridiron veterans with behavioral issues are suffering readjustment problems in retirement. This report is evidence that there may well be a physiological cause to their conditions. It is unfortunate the society does not have the same view of servicemen and women.
Since 2001, the DoD has confirmed brain trauma, the precursor to CTE in over 220,000 of the 2.3 million military personnel who spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some experts feel this may be a very conservative estimate. There has been no way, until now, of calculating how many of those ex-combat people may ultimately develop the condition. The study, however, has been criticized on several fronts. For one thing, the sample size is very small.
Too small some say to prove the link between explosions and CTE. Only 4 veterans were autopsied. Further to this limitation, some experts are not convinced of the correspondence between sports and wartime brain injury as well as the inapplicability of the mice research to human pathology. However, it is a valuable start to illuminate this little-known disorder that was previously only associated with prizefighters.