Navy researchers develop sensors to improve TBI detection

Although traumatic brain injury (TBI) is considered an invisible wound of war, its effects can be devastating. According to the Department of Defense, more than 327,000 veterans have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000. The Department of Veterans Affairs has invested millions of dollars into research for improving diagnosis and treatment of the brain injury.

The Office of Naval Research recently announced its plans to develop technology to better analyze the severity of TBI and diagnose its effects. The $30 million program involves a portable device called the Blast Load Assessment Sense and Test, or BLAST.

BLAST consists of small sensors that can be attached to body armor and helmets. It is designed to withstand blast environments in order to measure shock pressure and evaluate injury thresholds for the brain. The BLAST sensors can also monitor acceleration and deceleration of the body during explosions.

BLAST could improve response to battlefield exposure by providing a way to assess the possibility of TBI. Medical personnel and commanders can use the data from the sensors to determine whether affected troops need to be pulled out for treatment or can remain in the fight.

“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, who is overseeing the five-year program. “This reduces the likelihood of someone enduring multiple blasts and suffering more serious brain injury.”

BLAST is currently being tested in labs. The sensors are expected to undergo field testing in the next year and a half. If approved, the technology could be delivered to the Navy and Marines in three to five years.