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Army rushes to collect brain, TBI data

by Mike Hoffman on July 27, 2012

The U.S. Army wants to build a data set of concussions and traumatic brain injury events not yet seen in the medical community. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the former Army vice chief of staff, now retired, listed it as a top priority back in 2010.

It’s a priority for a simple, yet depressing reason. Soldiers will be out of Afghanistan after 2014 and the number of these events will drop dramatically. After not identifying the need in the first seven years of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is rushing to get the sensors on soldiers as fast as possible.

Enter the Rapid Equipping Force, the Army’s go-to for deploying equipment and weapons to soldier quickly. With the Georgia Tech Research Institute, the REF’s scientists built the next generation of blast effect sensors, the Integrated Blast Effects Sensor Suite (I-BESS). Army officials said these sensors to include a Soldier Body Unit is in the process of being shipped and should arrive in August.

What sets apart the I-BESS from the Army’s first blast gauges is the full body concept introduced by I-BESS. The Soldier Body Unit, which 1,000 soldiers will carry, is a 2-pound pack that holds four sensors, two on the back and two on the chest.

The Soldier Body Unit collects a blast’s effects on a human body and sends the data to a central collection point in a vehicle, or back on base. In a vehicle, the REF has installed floor– and seat-mounted accelerometers to collect data on the harm a soldier endures when his vehicle is hit by an improvised explosive device (IED).

The vehicles installations will take place in Afghanistan and go into Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicles (MATVs) and MaxxPro Dash MRAPs. Forty-two vehicles will receive the I-BESS.

Army leaders don’t expect immediate solutions to protect soldiers from TBIs, but they hope the data set will arm doctors with the information they need to further research ways to identify potential TBIs and how to further protect soldiers.

Read more about the I-BESS and how the Army designed it here on Military​.com.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

majr0d July 27, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Don't like it but I can understand the many reasons for it.

They have to do better on the weight. Just for comparison they are adding the weight of two more full magazines to already overloaded troops. The numerous little things we add to the soldier's load do add up.

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blight_ July 27, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Surprised they aren't putting sensors on /heads/ but on backs? Granted, concussions must have other effects on the body, but it tends to be brain damage that is most debilitating.

That said, if they really are interested in collaborating with the NFL, et al then the kit needs to get lighter. Once we're down to clandestine troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, the amount of training data available for TBI study stops, which is good for its potential victims but bad for research. Short of using medical research bodies in crash dummy tests…

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Matt Musson July 27, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Several new drugs appear effective at reducing TBI symptoms if given early enough.

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SJE July 27, 2012 at 5:18 pm

It's a real shame that they weren't trying to collect this data 8 years ago, when it was obvious that IEDs were the preferred method of the enemy, and TBI became a major concern. Perhaps the data would have helped design better protection and better treatment. Of course, for a long time the brass were more interested in CYA.

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Bill July 30, 2012 at 7:01 am

Please describe how the information gathered by the sensors would be used by physicians to make health-care decisions. Thanks.

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SJE July 31, 2012 at 1:41 pm

We still do not have a complete picture of the progress of TBI, which differs according to the nature and degree of the cause. The more data the better, as there might be all sorts of surprises in the data.

How can it be used? Lets say that we determine that the impact on blood vessels in the brain causes the release of inflammatory factors. If so, we can inject the person specific factors to dull the inflammatory response.

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jsallison July 30, 2012 at 9:53 pm

I'd be interested in data collected from troops that haven't been assigned to combat zones. I was informed by the VA wallahs that my claim for service-connected tinnitus was disapproved as a)I hadn't complained of it on active duty (at the time ringing in the ears was bonus noise and everyone was worried about hearing *loss*) and b)"tinnitus is generally a result of head trauma and nothing in your records shows a history of head trauma". Just so ya know, my MOS went from 11E to 19G to 19H to 19E to 19K. Keep your head out of the commander's hatch when the main gun goes off, repeatedly, and tell me that you have never been exposed to medically significant head trauma. Or how about the time when while offloading in Graf, the scout on the rail car next door missed the chock block and released the 10lb sledge that bounced off my steelpot and sent me to my knees? Guess that wasn't head trauma, either, nicht wahr? Then again, mebbe if I keep clogging up the VA system long enough, mebbe they'll buy me off to shut me up? Know a coupla of folk who made exactly that happen.

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blight_ July 30, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Mandate it for tankers practicing gunnery stateside, even the driver (to serve as a control, if necessary).

If the VA can determine which crew positions receive the most trauma, it might be useful.

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blight_ July 30, 2012 at 10:33 pm

Amusingly, I was in an accident, suffered a head injury and lost three hours before I woke up in the hospital. Spent the night with a CAT scan and walked out with a medical bill midway between 4 and 5 digits.

That said, I think we are good at monitoring short term TBI-related conditions. How is the person's long term memory (name)? What is their medium (what were you doing before X), short-term memory (do you know where you are)? Is there internal bleeding to the brain?

But other then that, I think nobody knows. Even though we have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan for almost a decade, our TBI data comes from soldiers who have experienced potentially /tons/ of TBIs. You don't get an MRI of someone with just one TBI, or two TBIs, or three. You get them after they're shipped stateside or after a full tour.

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SJE July 31, 2012 at 1:42 pm

you have an interesting version of "amusingly." I just hope you never encounter something seriously funny.

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blight_ August 2, 2012 at 6:45 am

I blame the concussion

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LetsLobRob July 31, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Hey…Put that F-22 to work…Now!!!

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SJE July 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Exactly. Before you can collect TBI data you have to acknowledge it exists, and accept that the data might not be pretty. The brass, certainly at Walter Reed, were more interested in CYA.

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