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Imaging companies ramp up head health efforts

by Diana Bradley, Staff Writer | August 22, 2013
The topic of traumatic brain injuries (or TBI) has been rife in the press this year, with new guidelines, studies, initiatives and related advances in imaging equipment regularly popping up.

And it's no wonder: This is a major public health problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that every year, at least 3.8 million TBIs occur either as an isolated incident or along with other injuries. Additionally, TBI is a contributing factor to a third of all injury-related deaths in the United States. More than three-quarters of the TBIs that occur are concussions or other forms of mild TBI, many of which may go undiagnosed.

There are several reasons for this surge in interest, Dr. Thomas Hammeke, professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, told DOTmed News.

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These include: The revival of a previous diagnosis of dementia pugilistica (a neurodegenerative disease seen in boxers), renamed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, raising the question of whether this syndrome can be attributed to multiple mild head injuries; and the NFL's acknowledgement of potential issues related to brain concussions.

"Perhaps precipitated by a lawsuit from retired players," said Hammeke.

Further, brain concussions seen in soldiers who fought or are still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have been identified from blasts as the "signature injury" from OEF/OIF operations, making this a priority interest in the military, according to Hammeke.

Research, diagnosis and treatment
Several big players in the medical imaging market have focused their efforts on this topic.

Most recently, Carestream Health has entered into a partnership with the Buffalo Bills, focusing on the need for new technology to help address key concerns in sports medicine, particularly those related to head injuries including: early diagnosis and accurate assessment of injured areas; development of medical standards that indicate if an athlete can return to play; and research that can assist in early diagnosis of long-term degenerative medical conditions in the head and brain.

The agreement builds on plans between Carestream and Johns Hopkins University for research and development of new systems for imaging of TBI to help improve the diagnosis and treatment of head injuries.

"[TBI] is clearly an area that can greatly benefit from advances in medical imaging technology," Jim Burns, Director, X-ray Solutions Advanced Development and Strategy for Carestream Health, told DOTmed News. "There is plenty of research underway to extend current imaging modalities, such as conventional CT and MRI."

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