Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘blast-induced traumatic brain injury’

Several retired American Football stars have ended up with chronic traumatic encephalophy (CTE), previously known as dementia pugilistica. It’s similar to Alzheimer’s disease in that the brain ends up with neurofibrillary tangles.

Science Translational Medicine Cover May 16CTE has also been seen in soldiers who have experienced blast induced traumatic brain injury (bTBI) from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). I previously wrote on this blog about how nanotechnology may revolutionize the detection of TBI using a nanomaterial that changes color.

Research published in the May 16, 2012 issue of Science Translational Magazine by Lee Goldstein and colleagues from the Molecular Aging and Development Laboratory at Boston University & other institutions, compared CTE neuropathology in blast-exposed military veterans and athletes with repetitive concussion injury.

For the first time they have shown similarities in what happens to the brains of soldiers when they are blown up and to athletes in sports that have repeated head impacts.

The reseachers looked at 8 post-mortem brains, 4 military veterans aged 22 to 45 with a history of blast exposure were compared to 4 athletes aged 17 to 27 who were either American Football players or, in one case, a wrestler. Despite the small sample size, the results showed similar brain trauma in the two groups:

“the effects of blast exposure, concussive injury, and mixed trauma (blast exposure and concussive injury) were indistinguishable.”

It is worth noting that the brain neuropathysiology seen was different from that seen with Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

The researchers went on to develop a mouse model that could be used to investigate the link between blast exposure, brain neuropathology and behavior.  I encourage you to read the STM paper for full details on this.

Some of the key findings of their mouse experiments were:

  • Blast exposure induces traumatic head acceleration in a blast neurotrauma mouse model
  • Single-blast exposure persistently impairs axonal conduction and long-term potentiation of activity-dependent synaptic transmission in the hippocampus
  • Single-blast exposure induces long-term behavioural deficits that are prevented by head immobilization during blast exposure.

The authors conclude that their results “provide compelling evidence linking blast exposure to long-lasting brain injury.”

What this research suggests to me is:

  • An ongoing need to design safer head protection for athletes and soldiers
  • The need to monitor and detect traumatic brain injury (I wrote last year about how nanomaterials were being developed to monitor blast exposure)
  • Need to identify those genetic factors (e.g. carrying the APOE e4 allele leads to a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease) that may lead to a heightened risk of developing dementia or CTE.

The paper by Goldstein and colleagues in STM is well worth reading if you have an interest in this area and the debate about the safety of young people in high-contact sports.


ResearchBlogging.orgGoldstein, L., Fisher, A., Tagge, C., Zhang, X., Velisek, L., Sullivan, J., Upreti, C., Kracht, J., Ericsson, M., Wojnarowicz, M., Goletiani, C., Maglakelidze, G., Casey, N., Moncaster, J., Minaeva, O., Moir, R., Nowinski, C., Stern, R., Cantu, R., Geiling, J., Blusztajn, J., Wolozin, B., Ikezu, T., Stein, T., Budson, A., Kowall, N., Chargin, D., Sharon, A., Saman, S., Hall, G., Moss, W., Cleveland, R., Tanzi, R., Stanton, P., & McKee, A. (2012). Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Blast-Exposed Military Veterans and a Blast Neurotrauma Mouse Model Science Translational Medicine, 4 (134), 134-134 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3003716


Biotech Strategy Blog is 1 today!  I can’t believe that a year has gone by so quickly!  Before moving on to year 2, I thought a brief review might be interesting.

What have been the top posts on Biotech Strategy Blog this past year?

In terms of total visitors per post:

  1. Results from NEJM Lucentis v Avastin AMD CATT clinical trial
  2. AUA Results from PIVOT study show no benefit from radical prostatectomy in low risk early stage patients
  3. ASCO 2011 Cabozantinib (XL184) may be an exciting new prostate cancer drug
  4. Merck’s capthepsin-K inhibitor odanacatib in osteoporosis
  5. Update from AACR on new prostate cancer drugs to watch

For those who like metrics:

  • Highest number of reads per month was in May (19,927)
  • Year to date there have been 79,179 visitors
  • Most visited day was September 22, 2011 (2136 reads)

What have been some of the other posts that I enjoyed writing about?

My top 5 (not in rank order) would be:

  1. Alpharadin will be new treatment option for prostate cancer
  2. Patient advocacy session at European Hematology Assocation EHA Congress shows impact of drug adherence on outcome
  3. How nanotechnology may revolutionize the detection of traumatic brain injury using a sensor that changes color
  4. Innovation in Nanotechnology will lead to improved drug delivery, diagnostics & imaging
  5. Insights of the decade

Finally, I have produced 4 videos that you can watch on the biotechstrategy channel on YouTube.

It’s been a busy but enjoyable year. Biotech Strategy Blog is still a work in progress.  If you have enjoyed a particular series of posts or would like me explore a topic or theme in the future, do email me or post a comment.

The highlight of the recent Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ) annual meeting in Philadelphia (Health Journalism 2011) for me was the presentation by Kacy Cullen from the Center for Brain Injury and Repair in the Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Pennsylvania.

© Kacy Cullen, University of Pennsylvania

Dr Cullen presented his research on blast-induced traumatic brain injury (bTBI) and the development of a nanomaterial containing photonic crystals that change color upon exposure to blast pressure.

In the same way that a radiation dosimeter badge records exposure to cumulative radiation for a hospital worker, so a helmet-mounted color badge would change color based on a soldier’s exposure to blast pressure; a common occurrence with improvised explosive devices (IED).

In a paper published in NeuroImage, Cullen and colleagues describe in detail a blast-injury dosimeter (BID) made from photosensitive polymers that is like a colored sticker.  This nanomaterial contains microscopic, diamond-like photonic crystals, whose ability to refract light is damaged in a precise way by the pressure from explosive blasts.

The result is a change in color that is related to the degree of pressure and blast intensity. What’s more because the photonic crystals are structurally damaged by the blast, further exposure leads to more widespread microstructural alterations and a further change in color.  In essence, the crystals have a memory for cumulative blast exposure.

Why is this important?

Many soldiers are exposed to blasts, but show no overt symptoms of traumatic brain injury.  Research has shown that repeated hits to the helmet of a football player can lead to brain injury without the obvious signs of a concussion.  Traumatic brain injury as a result of repeated exposure to blasts may also lead to mild cognitive impairment and the possibility of increased risk for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease later in life.  This has been seen in NFL players.

The research by Cullen and colleagues is still in the early stages of development.  In their paper they acknowledge some of the next steps such as calibrating the color changes to levels of blast exposure, and correlating these with traumatic brain injury.  Any blast injury dosimeter will also need to be field tested.

However, this work is promising and an example of how nanotechnology may impact the detection and diagnosis of those soldiers at risk of traumatic brain injury.

War related scientific research often leads to civilian applications. In the future, I could see nanotechnology stickers that change color with cumulative impact on the helmets of NFL, college or high school football players.

You can read more about this innovative research on how color changing photonic crystals detect blast exposure in the journal NeuroImage.

Update June 30, 2011

If you are interested in the exciting and innovative research being undertaken by Kacy Cullen and his team, there is now a website for The Cullen Laboratory and their work on Neural Engineering in Neurotrauma.

ResearchBlogging.orgCullen, D., Xu, Y., Reneer, D., Browne, K., Geddes, J., Yang, S., & Smith, D. (2011). Color changing photonic crystals detect blast exposure NeuroImage, 54 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.10.076

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