The Pentagon is spending an unprecedented $300 million this summer on research for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, offering hope not only for troops but hundreds of thousands of civilians.
The money -- the most spent in one year on military medical research since a $210 million breast cancer study in 1993 -- will fund 171 research projects on two of the most prevalent injuries of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Gregory O'Shanick, national medical director for the Brain Injury Association of America, says the funding initiative is "without a doubt … an all-time high" for spending by the government on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). He says civilian victims will benefit directly from the military studies.
By contrast, the National Institutes of Health, the world's largest government sponsor of medical research with an annual budget of $28 billion, spends about $80 million per year on TBI research, according to the NIH.
"It is huge," says Ross Bullock, director of neurotrauma at the University of Miami School of Medicine and lead investigator in a Pentagon-funded study of a drug designed to improve oxygen flow to damaged brain cells. "It is the just the most … enormous thing that has happened in traumatic brain injury research."
An estimated 1.4 million Americans suffer TBI each year, leaving 235,000 hospitalized and 50,000 dead, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority are mild cases that can often lead to recovery. Many others suffer lasting damage to their short-term memory and problem-solving abilities, researchers say.
The new research focuses considerable attention on mild TBI, says Navy Capt. E. Melissa Kaime, head of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs office, which is distributing the funds. The studies should be completed in 18 months to five years, she says.
Projects range from the development of an eyeglasses-like device that can detect brain injury through eye movement to coordinated studies of troops and veterans at locations across the country, Kaime says.
The Pentagon also will target new ways of delivering therapy to PTSD victims living in remote areas of the USA and reducing the stigma that can keep victims from seeking help, she says.
The military funding will go toward evaluating up to 20 different medications for TBI, she says, and studying ways of regenerating damaged brain cells.
Half of the $300 million in Pentagon funds have been distributed, and all will be paid out by Sept. 30, Kaime says.
Congress has provided an additional $273.8 million this year to study battlefield injuries, some of which will also go toward researching PTSD and TBI.
A study released in April by the RAND Corp. think tank estimates 300,000 current or former combat troops have PTSD or depression, and up to 320,000 may have suffered a brain injury.
"We're in the midst of an exciting era for those who have been damaged," says Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., founder of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force.