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Possible physical link between blast injuries and PTSD

April 02, 2018 - 1:06 pm
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A doctor believes he has found a potential physical link for PTSD in some soldiers who suffered blast wave injuries to their brains.

A CBS "60 Minutes" segment, aired April 1 with correspondent Scott Pelley, focused on the life of retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Mancini, who suffered a severe traumatic brain injury during a deployment to Iraq. In 2017, with his mental health deteriorating and suffering from psychosis, Mancini killed himself.

His family donated his brain for research in hopes of understanding what happened to him.

Mancini’s brain was examined by Dr. Daniel Perl and his team at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. He is studying the impact blast waves have on brain tissue.

Using a microscope that is “thousands of times more powerful than the best MRI” according to the segment, Perl discovered a previously unknown brain injury that leaves behind scarring after a blast injury.

Perl had compared brains of civilians with impact injuries from car accidents with those of military veterans injured by blasts, and found this new scarring injury only in the veterans.

Also, each veteran with these injuries had also diagnosed with PTSD. Perl said that it was still unknown if these injuries made people more likely to have PTSD or if the symptoms of this injury tends to look like PTSD.

The research team also noticed that Mancini did not have Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE, another form of brain injury that is frequently found in football players who have suffered repeated impacts to the head. The symptoms of CTE tend to show up years later whereas soldiers with this blast wave injury are coming home from deployment symptomatic, according to Perl.

“This is new. This, this has changed thinking about blast exposure and its consequences,” Perl told Pelley about their discovery.

The symptoms for this injury are believed to include persistent headaches, sleep problems, concentration, memory, mood changes and anger management, according to Perl.

Perl’s next step is looking for preserved brains of World War I veterans to see if he can find this scarring those brains, because that was the first time there was widespread use of high explosives in a war.

For more information about Dr. Daniel Perl's work and brain tissue donation, visit researchbraininjury.org