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Surprising Science

Veterans & Athletes Share Severe Brain Ailments

A new study has found parallels between bomb blast injuries sustained by soldiers and a degenerative brain disorder known to occur in athletes who box and play football. 

What’s the Latest Development?

A recent study of combat veterans’ brains suggests a link between the effects of sustaining blasts from roadside bombs, in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, and the consequences of severe head injury that can result from sports like boxing and football. In the study, researchers at Boston University’s School of Medicine performed autopsies on four soldiers’ brains and subjected mice to explosions proportional to those received on the battlefield. When mice were exposed to just one explosion, they produced signs of a disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, the mechanism by which researchers believe explosions cause brain damage. 

What’s the Big Idea?

When considered as part of a growing field of research on brain injuries, the recent study has profound implications for the military and sports industry. “Not long ago, people said NFL players with behavior problems were just having problems adjusting to retirement,” said Dr. Lee Goldstein, co-author of the recent study. “Now it’s more or less settled that there is a disease associated with their problems. But we do not have that consensus in the military world yet.” Currently, CTE is incurable and detected only by autopsy, but further studies should help to create diagnostic tests as well as new drug therapies. 

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