What new technique are scientists using to study TBI?

New information on traumatic brain injury can be learned from unexpected sources. One is smaller than your fingertip and can fly. The source I am referring to are fruit flies.

Fruit flies’ bodies are small but their nervous systems are actually quite complex. They are a great model for genetic mapping and have been used progressively to study the genes that make a healthy brain. Furthermore, the traits that might take forty years to show up in humans can take two weeks in fruit flies, so it is an expedited model. It allows the opportunity to study massive amounts of subjects with short lifespans and minimal ethical constraints.

In addition, the cell pathways and genes associated with traumatic brain injury are relatively unknown. The study of fruit flies can help find the genes that repair and minimize damage from traumatic brain injury, which affects 1.7 million people per year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is important because even mild traumatic brain injuries can have long-term, unanticipated detrimental effects in the following years.

The procedure is quite interesting. They take thousands fruit flies and use an automated system to shake them up to simulate traumatic brain injury, reproducing the forces the human brain might encounter in a whiplash event.

The study came from researchers at San Diego State University. “Fruit flies come out of this mild trauma and appear perfectly normal,” Eric Ratliff, an adjunct assistant professor at SDSU and the study’s other co-lead author, told Science Daily. “However, the flies quickly begin to show signs of decline, similar to problems found in people who have been exposed to head injuries.”

The study showed damage to neurons within the brain. Also the protein hyper-phosphorylated Tau builds up and bathes the brain. Build up of this protein is related to poor recovery after traumatic brain injury and is a hallmark feature of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, a progressive degenerative disease of the brain. CTE is the main issue of controversy in retired NFL players and was the basis of our lawsuit against Pop Warner, http://footballandbraindamage.com.

Additionally, flies experienced disruption in normal sleep patterns and insomnia.

The results suggest that study of fruit flies can pave a path to learning about genes that increase resilience toward traumatic brain injury.

“It’s really a unique model,” said Kim Finley, an associate professor at the San Diego State University Donald P. Shiley BioScience Center and the study’s co-lead author. “We’ve developed it to be reliable, inexpensive, and fast.”


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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