The discovery of a ''honeycomb pattern'' in the brains of combat veterans' who survived IED blasts may provide clues to the neurological impact of warfare, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Jillian Kitchener reports.
Professor Vassili Koliatsos and his team at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, believe they may have found the signature of "shell shock" in the brains of war veterans. Shell shock has afflicted soldiers since WWI…but it is a phenomenon that is still poorly understood. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR OF PATHOLOGY AND NEUROLOGY AT JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, VASSILI KOLIATSOS, SAYING: "Is it neurological, psychological or both?" Professor Koliatsos believes scientists may soon be able to answer that question. His team has found what they call a unique honeycomb pattern of broken and swollen nerve fibers in brains of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans exposed to IED blasts but who later died of other causes. They compared these brains to 24 other people who died of causes such as car accidents, drug overdoses and heart attacks. The honeycomb pattern, Koalitis says, was caused by the FORCE of the blast. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR OF PATHOLOGY AND NEUROLOGY AT JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, VASSILI KOLIATSOS, SAYING: "In this particular case, the force is coming against your chest so the blood gets squeezed. And as the blood gets squeezed, there's a lot of bad apple blood into the brain. And because there's a pulse of over-pressure wave that happens (like this), the brain also swells (like this). And when the brain swells, it pushes against some of the fixed elements inside the skull." The damage, he says, is concentrated in the frontal lobe of the brain. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR OF PATHOLOGY AND NEUROLOGY AT JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, VASSILI KOLIATSOS, SAYING: "And that's very important because this is the site, the center, of the executive functions of the brain. Functions that allow you to put your life together, organize, plan ahead, understand abstract. And you can imagine this can make your life difficult." U.S. veteran Aragorn Thor Wold says he has seen how a brain injury can take over a soldier's entire life. Wold was a Navy Corpsman who served with the marines in combat medicine for nine years. He says it's hard for medics to diagnose a moderate traumatic brain injury - or TBI - at the scene because troops are busy fighting. (SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. VETERAN ARAGORN THOR WOLD, SAYING: "How can we differentiate TBI from PTSD. Is it an organic brain injury. Is it an anxiety disorder, illness side, you know. There's a lot of those questions floating around. So I won't say the holy grail but a huge deal would be a biomarker." And while a biomarker has yet to be found, Koliatsos says his study shows there may be a neurological element to psychological suffering. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PROFESSOR OF PATHOLOGY AND NEUROLOGY AT JOHNS HOPKINS SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, VASSILI KOLIATSOS, SAYING: "If there is an executive disfunction, and disfunction of the front of the brain, you may think of different medications." He says he would also like to see improved body gear that would give greater protection to the chest… and minimize the impact of explosive blasts upon the brain.