"They pretty much knew right off the bat that I was going to have problems," Stunkard says. "I'm glad they did tell me. I just wish the number (of missing fibers) had been a little better."
The new tool promises a much closer look at nerve fibers than is now possible through a technique called diffusion tensor imaging, says Dr. Rocco Armonda, a neurosurgeon at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
"It's like comparing your fuzzy screen black-and-white TV with a high-definition TV," he says.
Armonda soon will begin studying the high-def scan on soldiers being treated for TBI at Walter Reed, to see if its findings correlate with their injuries and recovery. It's work that could take years to prove.
Other attempts are in the pipeline. For example, the military is studying whether a souped-up kind of CT scan could help spot TBI by measuring changes in blood flow inside the brain. The National Institutes of Health is funding a search for substances that might leak into the bloodstream after a brain injury, allowing for a blood test that might at least tell "if a kid can go back to sports next week," Koroshetz says.
He cautions that just finding an abnormality doesn't mean it's to blame for someone's symptoms.
And however the hunt for better tests pans out, Walter Reed's Armonda says the bigger message is to take steps to protect your brain.
"What makes the biggest difference is everybody — little kids riding their bicycles, athletes playing sports, soldiers at war — is aware of TBI," he says.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.
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