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Forces unite to research, treat
traumatic brain injury
Understanding how the brain reacts to traumatic injury will help
researchers in the new Force Protection Center for Brain Research at
MUSC develop treatment and better engineering for armored military
vehicles and other protections for American military and allied
personnel deployed in wars.
The center, located at 30 Bee St., could become the core of a national
imaging network through which brain injury information from around the
country would be stored and analyzed, said Layton McCurdy, M.D., MUSC
Dean Emeritus. McCurdy and Vanessa Hill, development officer for the
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Development, were responsible
for recruiting Force Protection to partner with MUSC on the center.
Announced June 4, the center was established through a partnership with
Ladson-based-Force Protection, a defense contractor that engineers
vehicles that reduce the impacts of roadside bombs. Force Protection
has committed $5 million in funding for research equipment, office
space, faculty, and employees for the center and related research
Dr. George explains
how the scanner works to MUSC President Ray Greenberg and visitors June
Force Protection’s support enabled MUSC to acquire a special Siemens
MRI scanner to conduct research on brain injuries. The technology and
research will be used to improve treatment of people suffering from
traumatic brain injury (TBI), notably American and allied soldiers
wounded in the Afghan and Iraqi wars. The $1.5 million Siemens scanner
will enable researchers to see details of the brain as it is being
MUSC also will work with the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical
Center, which unfortunately has a steady stream of wounded soldiers
suffering from TBI, McCurdy said.
“MUSC and the VA are kind of joined at the hip, so there will be a lot
of collaboration with the VA,” McCurdy said. The center will begin
performing studies in about a month, and its research will look at
various implications of war, including post traumatic stress disorder
(PTSD), as well as TBI, McCurdy said.
“Some symptoms of PTSD and TBI mimic each other—lethargy, confusion,
headaches, etc.,” said McCurdy, also an MUSC professor of psychiatry.
“Technology used in this center will compare brain scans of patients
with PTSD and TBI to better understand the appropriate diagnosis. Many
people suffering from PTSD may actually be suffering from TBI and vice
versa. We would be able to further investigate conditions such as these
and spot changes in the brain and see exactly where the difference is.”
TBI is also called the “silent epidemic,” because the signs are subtle
and many people suffering from brain injury may live for years without
realizing it. Besides injuries from battle, TBI also results from car
crashes, bicycle accidents, and sports. The center would research these
and other forms of TBI, said McCurdy.
“While TBI will not be the exclusive purpose of the center, it will be
a major focus for our research,” said Mark George, M.D., current
director of the MUSC research imaging center and a Distinguished
Professor of Psychiatry, Radiology and Neurology.
George described research that would use a phantom, or clear plastic
model head, which would be filled with material similar in density to
the brain and then scanned in the MRI scanner. The phantom will be
shocked in various intensities and methods and then scanned again with
the MRI to measure damage or changes similar to those that happen in
human brains following trauma. Force Protection will then use these
phantoms in testing new methods of making protective vehicles, in order
to choose the design that best minimizes TBI.
The research MRI scanner has twice the field strength as a conventional
MRI, and uses multi-channels that enable scans to be viewed real time
like an EEG, George said. “We can actually look at the brain as we are
imaging it,” George said.
Force Protection will use the center’s research in future design,
development and manufacture of life saving survivability solutions,
predominantly ballistic- and blast-protected wheeled vehicles currently
deployed to support armed forces and security personnel in conflict
zones. Because the center also will receive federal funding to research
all causes of TBI, such as automobile accidents, Force Protection plans
to share the research with automakers, said George.
“Some things are too important not to share,” said George, echoing an
old Mercedes commercial. “Combining the medical research expertise of
the university and the engineering expertise of our corporate sponsors
will result in best-in-class service and treatment of the many men and
women who have suffered devastating brain injuries in the line of
duty,” said MUSC President Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D. Greenberg also
said the partnership with Force Protection exemplifies how MUSC’s
relationship with the private sector helps establish a knowledge-based
economy, which is critical in making Charleston a world-class research
and development center.
“We are bringing the great people, resources and skills of MUSC and
Force Protection together,” said Michael Moody, Force Protection
president and CEO. “We aim to innovate and develop additional
survivability solutions that will provide our men and women in uniform
with the best possible protection.”
Friday, June 13, 2008
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