Allen Institute for Brain Science
A mouse brain.
Last year, Stanford University graduate Theo Roth and researchers from the National Institute of Health published a paper in the journal Nature on how the brain responds to trauma.
The researchers found that brain damage could be significantly reduced if an antioxidant is applied immediately after the trauma.
The study, which was of great interest to the NFL world, was based on the observation of mice immediately after brain trauma.
In a remarkable happenstance, the study wouldn't have been possible if Roth hadn't been so bad at performing brain surgery on mice back in 2010.
In an article by Robert Klemko in Sports Illustrated, Roth and the NIH's Dr. Dorian McGavern reveal how they first stumbled upon the technique of observing brain injuries in mice in real time.
It turns out it was an accident.
In the summer of 2010, Roth was an 18-year-old NIH intern entering Stanford in the fall. His job was to shave down a small piece of a mouse's skull so that researchers could see how the brain reacted to meningitis under a high-powered microscope.
Roth was terrible at that job. He kept giving the mice concussions, screwing up the results.
After some initial frustration, the researchers realized Roth's mistakes had led to something important — they could basically watch what happens in the brain during a concussion.
"Mouse after mouse was concussed, but something valuable did come of the process. Roth and McGavern observed in the subsequent images of the rodents’ brains a flurry of action—leakage from blood vessels lining the skull seeping down and causing brain damage. Towards the end of the summer, the two started talking about what they had seen in the concussed mice. Roth, a former high school wrestler and a Rams fan, connected the dots. 'We saw the brain operating in ways no one had ever recorded before, and right around the same time, traumatic brain injury was becoming a hot topic,' Roth says. 'People were starting to realize how detrimental it was in the NFL and for guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan.'"
Roth used this technique in his brain-trauma studies over the past four years to much success. Read more about the findings.
The takeaway is that there's still a ton we don't know about brain injuries. With the NFL in the middle of a crisis, this sort of research is getting an increasing amount of attention, and funding.
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