Military Seeks Test for Brain Injury; Blood Proteins Could Indicate Severity of Head Wounds

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Byline: Joyce Howard Price, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The Pentagon is funding research to develop a blood test to gauge the severity of head wounds while the victim is still on the battlefield.

"The head is less than 9 percent of the body, yet it gives us 25 percent of the [combat] hits," said Lt. Col. Geoffrey Ling, a physician and director of neuro-intensive care at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. "What's more, over 50 percent of the soldiers who die [from combat wounds] after reaching medical care have head injuries."

Yet the military has no diagnostic tool to help a combat medic in the field determine if a soldier suffering from a head wound has any chance of survival and should be transported to a hospital.

"If we have a few drops of blood and can use that to determine whether someone [with a head wound] is mildly, severely or moderately injured, that would be a huge contribution to decision-making" by a medic on the battlefield, Col. Ling said Friday in an interview.

The Army neurologist is keeping close tabs on the progress of the research, financed by $2.2 million from the Department of Defense. The work is a collaborative effort by scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring and the University of Florida's McKnight Brain Institute.

The university states in a news release that soldiers "fighting in today's high-tech military force will be much more likely to survive traumatic brain injury" if the researchers are successful in developing the blood test.

Col. Ling agrees, but he said the technology also will help medics identify soldiers who can't be saved.

Because the medical and surgical facilities are "pretty far away from the battlefield," medics need to know if wounded servicemen can survive the flight and beyond, he said.

"They've got to make sure a soldier can benefit."

Col. Ling said the blood test would give medics "objective information to make critical triage decisions" and help them "determine whether a person should be treated at a high or low category" of care. …