Researchers Forum Explores Need for Traumatic Brain Injury Evaluation


posted October 13, 2017

Researchers with the University of Pittsburgh’s U.S. Department of Defense-funded Targeted Evaluation, Action, and Monitoring of Traumatic Brain Injury group are working on mapping the brain to provide a visual representation of injuries, making them as physically identifiable as scars on the skin.

The invisible wounds may create very real and harmful symptoms, such as disorientation, depression, mood swings, confusion, or loss of memory.

Representatives from TEAM TBI, elected officials, veterans, and others discussed the groundbreaking technology during a seminar at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown’s John P. Murtha Center for Public Service and National Competitiveness on October 12, 2017.

“We’re developing the technology to – in essence – create a circuit diagram of the brain, so that we can, in an hourlong scan, identify each of the cables of the brain and how much bandwidth do they have,” said Dr. Walter Schneider, from TEAM TBI, which has tested the technology on military and civilian participants with a history of traumatic brain injury. “Within that process, when a cable takes a hit of 50 percent, it slows operation. It makes it more error-prone.

“We want to understand that, so we know where we might do interventions in terms of training to bring back some of that and understand the mechanisms of that process.”

TEAM TBI uses high-definition fiber tracking to create a detailed image of the brain that can pinpoint specific wounds that may be causing symptoms.

Schneider said the technology is still in the “research stage” with a little more than a half-dozen major institutions currently using it in the United States. He foresees “substantial” advancements over the next five years.

“The good news is that most major medical centers already have the equipment to do this,” Schneider said. “It’s software and analysis elements that could relatively rapidly spread in the field.”

The research is not only expected to benefit military personnel and veterans, but also work its way into the general population.

“Building a better X-ray has many purposes for both veterans and nonveterans,” Schneider said. “The one thing that’s very important in veterans is the government has both an obligation and serious commitment to help these guys and women within that set. Once we tune those capabilities more effectively, then we can apply them to things such as high school sports injury as well.”

State Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, from the 71st district, compared the brain-mapping advancement to the development of X-ray machines around the turn of the 20th century that revolutionized medical care.

“In the 1900s, country doctors set bones by feel,” Barbin said.

“So, in the beginning of the 20th century, you just didn’t know how to heal orthopedic injuries. Well, now, we’re in the 21st century, and there’s a technology out there that tells us how do you go about healing neurological injuries or how do you make sure that when you’re healing them – the surgery part – you’re not doing more damage than you are the process of healing.”