BU's Brain Injury Team Finds Affliction in Veterans

The recent death of former Patriots linebacker Junior Seau renewed interest in the work being done by Boston University Medical School’s degenerative brain injury research group, particularly when Seau’s family decided it would donate his brain to BU earlier this month. But while BU’s work with athletes tends to make headlines, their research into C.T.E., or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, goes far beyond the playing field.

Just this week, the research team released a study demonstrating that combat veterans exposed to roadside bombings in Afghanistan and Iraq exhibit injuries similar to those seen in athletes with C.T.E. According to their report, mice who experienced simulated bombings developed C.T.E.-like symptoms within two weeks of being within range of the explosion. And side-by-side brain studies of athletes who experienced concussions and soldiers who were in close proximity to blasts showed similar damage in both cases.

The study, which was funded in part by the Department of Veterans Affairs, may help reshape the conversation about the mental health of veterans who return home from war, giving added support to those who contend that psychological issues are not the only reason that many soldiers struggle to reenter civilian life. According to the New York Times, the U.S. military has diagnosed over 220,000 brain injuries in its 2.3 million soldiers since 2001, but many contend those numbers are only a fraction of the true figure. Studies like this this may help influence decisions about therapies and treatments for soldiers who return home with brain injuries, and will hopefully help find better, safer ways for them to survive the battlefield.