The Office of Naval Research is spearheading the development of a technology to better analyze and diagnose the effects of traumatic brain injury.  

The device, called BLAST — Blast Load Assessment Sense and Test  — is designed to be a portable system that can measure shock pressure and analyze injury thresholds for the brain.

"A system like BLAST is vitally important because it can help recognize the signs of TBI early and tell warfighters they might need medical attention," said Dr. Timothy Bentley, a program manager overseeing the research for ONR's Warfighter Performance Department. "This reduces the likelihood of someone enduring multiple blasts and suffering more serious brain injury. BLAST also is unique for its unique suite of technology."

Brain injuries have become a primary concern of Congress and defense experts over the past several years.

As a result of an increase in TBI related cases from military veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan, Congress passed the Traumatic Brain Injury Act of 2008, which requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health to best determine information dissemination practices and procedures to help facilitate TBI diagnosis and treatment.

That collaborative exercise produced a report to Congress in summer of 2013 that found roughly 33,149 U.S. military veterans were diagnosed with TBI in 2011, and 59, 218 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were potentially treated for TBI from 2001 to 2011. It is believed that more than 327,000 vets have been diagnosed with a TBI since 2000, with the VA spending roughly $32 million a year on TBI research. 

BLAST operates by utilizing tiny sensors that can be fitted onto  helmets and body armor. The sensors can survive blast environments and collect necessary data for medical personnel or even a corpsman operating in the field, retrieved potentially by some form of barcode scanner.

The retrieved data can provide a corpsman with necessary information including an assessment vibration test on an injured service member that can determine whether or not the injured warfighter needs to stand down or can remain in the fight.

"BLAST sensors can provide valuable blast pressure data that can be used to assess the possibility of TBI," said Dr. Amit Bagchi, a scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory. "The more data we have, the better we can predict the presence of TBI."

The technology is designed to be deliverable to Navy and Marines within a three to five year timeline. The sensors are currently being tested in laboratories, but over the next year and a half the sensors should graduate to field testing with Marines undergoing breacher training.

Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

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