Veterans to Receive Brain Implants to Treat PTSD?

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In yet another startling revelation, “the Pentagon is planning to implant veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with small electronic sensors that will map their brains. The project will proceed with the help of a $30-million grant provided by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).”

According to a statement released by Massachusetts General Hospital — the creator of the chip — the “deep brain stimulation (DBS) device … will monitor signals across multiple brain structures in real time.”

“Our goal is to take DBS to the next level and create an implantable device to treat disorders like PTSD and TBI. Together with our partners we’re committed to developing this technology, which we hope will be a bold new step toward treating those suffering from these debilitating disorders,” said Dr. Emad Eskandar, director of functional neurosurgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and the project’s principal investigator.

Draper Laboratory, a non-profit research group with experience in the development of “miniaturized smart medical devices,” will partner with Massachusetts General and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in creating the brain implant.  Source:  The New American.

One would hope that DARPA knows what it is doing in partnering with Massachusetts General Hospital and Draper Laboratory to treat PTSD and TBI, but you seldom hear the outcomes of studies conducted by independent contractors.

For instance, where is the data collected by the Department of Defense on at least two studies dating back 7 years on sensors embedded in military-issued helmets?   Did the DoD discover that our military helmets didn’t provide our military personnel the protection they deserved?  While I am not a great believer in conspiracy theories, I find it surprising that sensor data collected for at least 7 years has not been made public.   Is there something the military doesn’t want Veterans and active duty personnel to know?

The American Psychological Association (“APA”) has rightfully concluded “that psychologists should no longer aid the military at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere – in effect reversing more than a decade of institutional insistence that such participation was responsible and ethical.”  This statement by a former President of the APA was printed by The Guardian and is the fallout of a damning report suggesting that the APA endorsed 9/11 prisoner torture policies that even the CIA rejected.

Outside contractors continue to profit through generous grants provided by the DoD and other government resources.  While SFTT applauds the use of scientific research to study PTSD, it would be useful to know whether Veterans will volunteer to be part of this Massachusetts General Hospital study.  Furthermore, how will the results of these studies be communicated with the general public.

After waiting 7 years to see the results of sensor studies on military helmets, the general public is still waiting for information.

 

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Military Helmet Sensor Data: What does it show?

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Two years ago, sophisticated sensors were implanted in military helmets of some 7,000 troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The purpose of the sensors was to evaluate the extent of concussions and  brain trauma injuries caused by IEDs and other combat related incidents.  According to the military video shown below, data from these sensors was downloaded monthly to a computer terminal  and then forwarded to a “secure” data center in Aberdeen, MD for analysis.

 

To date, SFTT is not aware that the Department of Defense (DOD) has shared any of this information with the public. However, the recent decision by the military to award a new helmet sensor contract to BAE Systems strongly suggests that we are dealing with no trivial issue.  Indeed, the recent release of the comprehensive US Army report entitled Health Promotion Risk Reduction Suicide Prevention and increased media attention at the extent of brain trauma injuries within the military would argue that greater public disclosure is well-advised to deal with this growing problem.

As recent history shows, the US Army and DOD are unwilling to share relevant data with the public that might suggest that the equipment provided to our brave warriors is deficient.   In fact, Roger Charles, the Editor of SFTT, was obliged to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) to obtain forensic records of troops killed with upper torso wounds to evaluate the effectiveness of military-issue body armor.   A  federal judge in Washington, D.C. recently ordered the Army’s medical examiner to release information about the effectiveness of body armor used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or to justify the decision to withhold it.  For Roger Charles and those in SFTT who have followed this issue for several years, it is unlikely that the US Army will open their kimono and confirm what most already know:  the body armor issued to our troops was not properly tested and is most likely flawed.

Full disclosure is generally the “right” decision and it would be useful for the US Army to share the helmet sensor data with the public to help address a growing problem for the men and women who have served in harm’s way and their families.   The American public can handle the truth!

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Brain Trauma Injuries and A.L.S.

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In a paper released this week, there are new indications that brain trauma injuries may mimic many of the symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s disease.  In an news article published August 18th by the New York Times entitled Brain Trauma Injury can mimic A.L.S.,  NYT’s reporter Alan Schwartz indicates that A.L.S. or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as Lew Gehrig’s Disease may have been triggered by concussions and other traumatic head injuries. 

According to the New York Times report, “Doctors at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, Mass., and the Boston University School of Medicine, the primary researchers of brain damage among deceased National Football League players, said that markings in the spinal cords of two players and one boxer who also received a diagnosis of A.L.S. indicated that those men did not have A.L.S. They had a different fatal disease, doctors said, caused by concussion-like trauma, that erodes the central nervous system in similar ways.”

As previously reported by SFTT and other reliable sources, the military is paying far greater attention to brain trauma injuries and its long-term effects on military personnel if left un-diagnosed.    Officially, military sources place the number of troops suffering from brain trauma injuries at 115,000, but informed sources place the number much higher.    Clearly, the  rapid deployment of new helmet sensors by BAE based on preliminary field studies suggests that is a serious problem that is attracting the attention of our military leadership.

While pleased brain injuries caused by frequent I.E.D incidents is receiving more careful diagnosis and serious medical study, the question remains:  Do our troops have the best protective gear and military helmets to cushion the immediate effects of an I.E.D. explosion?  Simply deploying our troops with sensors to “study” the effects of brain trauma injury is akin to a laboratory experiment with rats.  More succicntly, is there currently a better alternative to the current standard-issue military helmet that would help reduce brain trauma injury.

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