James R. Stone, MD, PhD, and Collaborators Discover Repeated Blast Exposures May Harm the Brain Health of Military Personnel

December 6, 2023 by

University of Virginia's James Stone, MD, PhD

James Stone, MD, PhD

The brains of special warfare community personnel repeatedly exposed to blasts show increased inflammation and structural changes compared with a control group, potentially increasing the risk of long- term, brain-related disease, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and Naval Medical Research Command (NMRC) led the study, which compared the brains of nine special operations personnel exposed to blasts with a control group of nine military service members with only minimal exposures to blasts. Participants’ brains were analyzed using sophisticated imaging techniques, combined with surveys that measured exposure to weapons and explosives as well as symptoms related to brain injury, including mood and sleep issues.

The study found that increased blast exposure was associated with increased brain inflammation, and reduced volume and thickness of brain structures. This could affect several key brain functions, including memory, motor skills and regulating emotions.

Previous studies have shown that people with many neurodegenerative conditions – including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) – all have chronic brain inflammation that may be detectable before the conditions fully develop.

“This is the first study to directly demonstrate increased inflammation in the brains of service members who are exposed to small blasts over a career,” said James Stone, MD, PhD, a UVA Health radiologist who led the study. “Brain inflammation is such a key process in other brain-related illnesses. These findings raise concerns about the long-term brain health of those exposed to repeated low-level blasts.”

Read the full story in the UVA Health newsroom.

Filed Under: Research