At an experimental mine at the Missouri University of S&T in Rolla, scientists are setting off explosives around lab mice and cell cultures to study how exposure to blasts in combat damage the brains of military personnel.
Neuroscientists at the University of Missouri-Columbia and Stanford University are leading the research, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense. The study is focused on mild traumatic brain injury, the most common type of brain injury affecting military personnel. However, the condition is difficult to diagnose and not well studied.
Military troops may not exhibit any immediate symptoms of a neurological disorder, said Hailong Song, who is pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience at Mizzou.
“But when they come back home after years [of being in combat], they [may develop] those behavioral and psychiatric disorders,” Song said. “So basically we want to study why that happens and how to prevent that.”
For a few months this year, engineers at Missouri University of Science and Technology are helping neuroscientists recreate battlefield conditions. They're using composite C-4, an explosive commonly used by the military.
“Soldiers are exposed to four, five blasts a day for a week, doing some training,” said Catherine Johnson, a professor of explosives engineering at Missouri S&T. “That has constant effects on the brain that you don’t notice right away but could build up and be the cause of traumatic brain injuries and the onset of Alzheimer’s in the future.”
If scientists can detect biological changes that can be linked to blast exposure, Song said it’s possible the research could be used to develop a treatment for brain injury or manufacture a helmet for troops to better withstand blasts in combat.
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