Military service members are often diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, but it’s a diagnosis that comes long after they’ve left the battlefields they serve on, which can come at a cost to their quality of life, as well as costing time and money. But that may soon change.
Currently, most combat zone TBI tests are based purely on symptoms such as headaches, nausea and light sensitivity. Based on those symptoms, medics decide whether the patient needs a CT scan, which is used to diagnose a person with a brain injury. But CT scanners are big, bulky and expensive, so in order for wounded warfighters to use one, they have to be shipped from the front lines to a facility that has a machine, and that could be far away.
Plans to essentially shrink brain scanning technology so it’s battlefield-accessible are on the way.
“What we’re looking for [on the front lines] is something that measures the actual function of the brain, other than just asking people some questions,” said Army Col. Dallas Hack, the director of combat casualty care for the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
A new Food and Drug Administration-approved device is expected to revolutionize how quickly a TBI can be diagnosed. The device consists of a headset and disposable sensors that attach to an Android smartphone, which is used as a mini computer in the field. It measures brain electrical activity and then analyses the data using algorithms to correlate them to elements relating to TBI.
“That then allows them to make some very significant decisions about patient care,” said Michael Singer, the president of BrainScope, the company working with Army researchers on the device.
The device is expected to help save time, manpower, money and lives by telling medics who really needs to be taken off the battlefield.
“Those [CT scan] X-rays have radiation, so we don’t want to do more of them than we need, especially in a theater of war,” Hack said. “[The device] will be very useful in the field, to be able to know whether it’s worth everybody’s risk to actually evacuate this person somewhere and get that CT scan or not.”
“There’s no other technology like it today,” Singer said of the new device. “From start to finish, the test takes about 10 minutes, and then at the end of it, it gives the caregiver a rapid reading as to whether the patient does or doesn’t have some form of structural brain injury.”
While the device will help evaluate patients in the field, Singer said it’s not to be used as a replacement for a CT scan. Instead, it should be used in conjunction with it.
Researchers are still developing the next version of the device, which they’re working toward having available for military use in the next year. Singer said researchers are also working on another platform that will focus purely on concussion assessment.
Hack is retiring at the end of August, but he said he plans to stay involved in the project and make sure the device successfully gets implemented in the field.