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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

VA Research Develops Brain Scan To Detect TBI

The VA Medical Center in La Jolla received $52 million last year for research.

One of the most interesting research developments is a new kind of brain scan that can see how mild traumatic brain injury, caused by bomb blasts, affects the cortex. The researcher, Dr Mingxiong Huang, is presenting his findings at a national VA research conference this week.

About a third of veterans who come for treatment at the VA Medical Center are diagnosed with TBI. But Dr Huang said normal brain scans like MRIs only spot changes to the brain in about 10 percent of cases.

Huang said his slow wave imaging technique can identify changes in the brain of people who have suffered traumatic brain injuries 90 percent of the time. He hopes to use the technique to help track whether treatments are working.

“Being able to see exactly where the brain was injured is very important,” Huang said, “You can perform pre- and post-intervention scans to see what part of the brain was changed.”

Research is ongoing into which treatments are most effective for the thousands of service members who return from combat zones suffering from mild TBI.

It’s estimated that 15 percent of those veterans do not recover within in a few months.

Dr Dewleen Baker of UCSD works with veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI at the Veterans Medical Center. She said without an accurate scan, doctors can’t tell if there is a physiological problem when patient complain of persistent symptoms, like headaches, difficulty focusing, or memory problems.

“It’s very hard to tell somebody ‘No you’re not being truthful,’ until you really have a good test,” she said, “This is why I’m so excited by the imaging that Dr Huang’s doing, because it has an objective base.”

Baker said the new slow wave brain scans have provided physiological evidence of changes in the brain in patients who say they have symptoms months after other patients have recovered.

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