The Waco VA's Center of Excellence is working on groundbreaking research to help detect Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury faster, based on blood samples from veterans.
Scientists at the facility said they are the only lab searching for more clues about a particular steroid produced naturally in the blood after a traumatic event and they are hoping it can save lives in the future.
"We're really excited about this. Over 300,000 men and women from recent wars are suffering from a Traumatic Brain Injury and we really think this is at the forefront of early diagnosis and hopefully even lead to a cure," Dr. Richard Seim, Clinical Psychologist at the VA said.
A journey to a cure begins with the first step and they are in the process of that first step now.
"We have collected blood samples from 100 veterans, approximately," Dr. Rakeshwar Guleria, Biochemist, at the VIZN 17 Center of Excellence for Research on Returning War Veterans said.
When a traumatic event happens like a combat injury, certain proteins and chemicals are released into the blood, some lingering longer than others. Waco doctors are looking for a specific chemical called a cardiotonic steroid that appears after a traumatic experience.
"That's the uniqueness of it. It has more longevity," Guleria said, about the cardiotonic steroid, which means it lingers longer in the blood.
The steroid, which is produced in the body, naturally, can cause inflammation in organs, possibly in the brain too.
"When the brain is so inflamed like that, it impedes the brain's ability to heal," explained Seim.
"Our ultimate goal is to use that biomarker for inhibition of the inflammation process, that we can block that molecule with another molecule and reduce or completely stop the inflammation process," said Guleria.
Guleria calls the study a tedious process. Seim said the first part alone takes at least two years, with other parts required for years after that to fully complete the study and make a final determination if the steroid can, in fact, be used as a biomarker for TBI.
But they say the blood study can improve early detection and early intervention--and that can be life-changing.
"That can save a life, 100 percent, absolutely, especially in case of any kind of trauma to the brain," said Guleria.