Traumatic Brain Injuries – the “silent epidemic”
A few weeks back, we shared the news that we were awarded a three-year grant to develop and test enhanced ultrasound probe and measurement techniques for NASA that could eventually be used in space to monitor how the spaceflight environment affects the vision of astronauts. Knowledge gained from this research could also help the medical community better understand the underlying causes of traumatic brain injuries.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an important public health problem and is frequently referred to as the “silent epidemic”. As high profile cases, such as actress Natasha Richardson, who appeared to be fine after a head injury but later died from her injuries demonstrate, much remains to be learned to permit the accurate diagnosis and successful treatment of TBI. The CDC estimates at least 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury in the United States each year, with over 50,000 of them resulting in death.
Further complicating the issue is our understanding of TBI, particularly in mild cases, is pretty limited. As in any area of scientific discovery, it is critical to create tools to aid doctors and researchers in their quest to understand the disease. Hopefully those same tools become a part of the diagnosis and treatment routine, but sometimes it’s not always clear that will happen. The advantage of GE having a Global Research Center is we are uniquely positioned to develop those early tools for understanding when the business case may not be as compelling.
While “big iron” technologies such as CT and MRI are a key part to diagnosis, they lack portability and wide-spread availability. Developing such tools as ultrasound for intracranial pressure (ICP) measurement, a key factor in TBI injuries, can greatly help understanding. The Research Center is also looking into other portable neural monitoring technologies. These technologies if successful would augment GE Healthcare’s monitoring business. Further, the possibility of fusing ultrasound with other monitoring modalities, yielding results that might be unavailable if the technologies are applied separately, could provide even greater insight into TBI. This would hopefully lead to wide spread use of these technologies for screening and diagnosis. Such portable and inexpensive technologies would have a global impact reaching into rural settings, third world countries, and even the battlefield.