Traumatic brain injury is becoming a greater concern in the U.S. medical community and more must be done to help patients, specialists in the field said at the May 22 Forum at Simches Research Center.
The well-attended session was titled, “Acute and Chronic Consequences of Traumatic Brain Injury: How Can We Better Treat Patients?”
Lee Schwamm, MD, director of acute stroke services and vice chair, Department of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital, said therapies for TBI have not improved significantly in the past decade.
Yet about 500,000 Americans suffer from TBI, according to Marc de Moya, MD, a trauma surgeon at MGH. More cases are being discovered monthly from soldiers returning from Iraq.
He said that effective methods of treating early-stage TBI are largely unknown. He and a team at MGH are studying ways to understand the mechanism of primary brain injury extension and determine how to mitigate the extension.
His team is also interested in using the learning/memory model in large animals such as swine to study the long-term effects of severe TBI.
Mel Glenn, MD, director of outpatient and community brain injury rehabilitation at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, said that football players and boxers who receive repeated blows to the head often suffer in later years. But there is little effective therapy available to them.
Dr. Glenn cited the case of Ted Johnson, a former linebacker for the New England Patriots football team. Johnson has told reporters that he suffers from severe headaches. He says he is often depressed. He blames his condition on collisions he received on the field. Patients like Johnson would benefit from more research and better therapies, said Dr. Glenn.
Dr. Glenn mentioned that research shows boxers frequently manifest head injury either during their careers or after retirement. However, he said that studies thus far show that soccer players are not damaged by heading the ball during their games and practices.
Dr. de Moya said that greater efforts are being made to study traumatic brain injury, aided by funding from the Department of Defense which is reacting to the number of head injuries sustained overseas.
Dr. de Moya said that one positive aspect of the Iraq War could be greater funding for TBI, and better diagnosis and therapies for those injured either in battle or civilian mishaps.
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