Exposure to bomb blast may increase risk of Alzheimer’s, military-funded research finds

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Troops exposed to shockwaves from bomb blasts may be at higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological problems, even if they have not suffered head trauma, according to recent INAC-funded research. army.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke have found that even small explosions – unlikely to cause concussions or injuries – alter the molecular structure of the brain, according to a study published last week in the journal Brain Pathology. .

“This finding may explain the many blast-exposed people returning from war zones with no detectable brain damage, but who still suffer from persistent neurological symptoms, including depression, headaches, irritability and memory problems,” he said. said Ben Bahr, professor of molecular biology and biochemistry. at UNC-Pembroke, the Army said in a statement.

Explosions from roadside bombs, rockets and mortar shells have affected many soldiers deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere over the past 20 years. Traumatic brain injuries and concussions from these explosions often lead to sleep and memory problems, and sometimes depression that leads to suicide.

Long-term problems can arise from explosions that troops might not recognize as harmful at the time, Bahr said.

“Our interest has focused on the effects of low intensity blast waves that soldiers can experience during training and in war zones… where nearby explosions can cause blast waves that can put soldiers at risk. knees but they are able to get up with no obvious body or brain injury,” Bahr said in an email.

To test the impact of the explosions on the troops, the researchers used slices of rat brains, specifically from the hippocampus, which plays an important role in learning and memory.

They placed the brain tissue in a makeshift skull: an aquarium filled with hot water. Seven inches from the tank was a 1.7 gram explosive charge, capable of a “seemingly innocuous level of blast wave intensity,” Bahr said.

The explosion produced a shock wave which passed through the air, the tank and then the water before reaching the brain tissue.

The blast damaged the hippocampus and decreased electrical activity between neurons, said Frederick Gregory, program manager for the Army Research Office, which funded the research.

“You start to see the development of proteins associated with Alzheimer’s plaque, as well as a loss of proteins that you need to maintain your synaptic connections to your neurons,” Gregory said in a phone call. These effects could be seen after a single explosion, with other explosions showing cumulative damage, he said.

The research also involved the Development Command Army Research Laboratory and the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers said they plan to examine the effects of the blasts on other parts of the brain.

“Early detection of this measurable deterioration could improve diagnoses and treatment of recurrent neuropsychiatric obstacles and reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life,” Bahr said in the Army statement. .

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