Shielding torso protects brain from blast injuries

Last Updated: Apr 29, 2011, 12:52 PM IST

Washington: Tougher body armour to shield the chest, abdomen and back may be just what soldiers in Afghanistan need to protect their brains from mild injuries stemming from "shell shock", a study says.

Such mild trauma, resulting from the initial shock of exploding mines, grenades and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) now accounts for more than 80 percent of all brain injuries among US troops.

Some 160,000 American veterans are estimated to have sustained this kind of trauma, the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology reports.

"Protecting the body is absolutely essential to protecting the brain," says senior study investigator and Johns Hopkins professor and neuropathologist Vassilis Koliatsos.

"Blast-related injuries, including what we call blast-induced neurotrauma ... and improvements to body armour in addition to helmet-wearing are likely going to be needed if we want to minimise their threat to our soldiers` health," says Koliatsos.

Koliatsos and his team used a metal shock tube specially designed at Hopkins` Applied Physics Lab to isolate the effects of an explosion`s primary blast wave on mice, according to a Hopkins statement.

Researchers found that a plastic glass covering the torso of shocked mice fully protected them from damage in critical parts of the brain, linking nerves in the brain and the spinal cord.

Koliatsos emphasises that these results do not undermine the need to wear a helmet to shield their head from flying shrapnel and other bomb debris and protect them from secondary blast waves, strong enough to throw bodies more than 100 feet.

The study is the first to show widespread damage to axons (a long, slender projection of a nerve cell or neuron, that conducts electrical impulses) in the brain from mild blast explosions.

It was designed specifically to investigate the ill effects on the body of the primary blast, of extremely fast-moving, high-pressure air, researchers say.