How Do Supercomputers Help Us Prevent Brain Injuries?

How Do Supercomputers Help Us Prevent Brain Injuries?

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concussions are a big deal
and for a long time we’ve thought that they play a really big role in
contributing to something called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE CTE is a
serious neurodegenerative disease that we see in people like pro sports players
and military veterans it involves the death of your brain cells causes
cognitive dysfunction and dementia and even early death it can be really hard
to diagnose prevent and treat but research from LLNL and collaborators
like Boston University has now given us a better understanding of what causes
CTE and it’s not concussions plus this
research now brings us one step closer to uncovering what a concussion actually
is for many years it was thought that
accumulated damage from repeated concussions was the main contributing
factor to whether someone developed CTE but the data showed something kind of
confusing 15 to 20 percent of athletes who developed CTE had never been
diagnosed with a concussion and if concussions are supposed to cause CTE
then those are some odd stats what we noticed is that there was just no
correlation with documented witnessed or reported concussions not really none
whatsoever about 15 to 20 percent of the nura pathologically diagnosis cases of
CTE had no history of concussion now is also true in some of our younger cases
in the teenage years and 20s we’re seeing a neurodegenerative disease in
teenagers and 20-year olds which is astounding clues like this made Lee and
others in this field start to look a little more closely at what is actually
happening to the brain when you experience traumatic brain injury or TBI
what you need to know about head injuries is that they can be caused by
two basic mechanisms impact and blast blast injuries are traumatic brain
injuries that result from a high pressure wave of air encountering the
head basically rattling your brain around we see this kind of injury in
military service members who have been near explosions on the other hand impact
injuries are the result of a direct impact with some other solid thing like
another person’s head and TBI is an event it’s like a heart attack as an
event so TBI is an event an insult to to the brain it was believed for many many
years that the blast wave which is essentially a moving wall of air think
of a tsunami of air coming at you would do something to the head when it hit and
passed over the head and there was something about that sudden change in
pressure this is a high pressure wave that would cause
the traumatic brain injury of course is CT so it was believed that that would do
something magical Lee and his team in Boston began to investigate the
differences between impact and blast injuries the experiments they designed
to produce identical motions of the head in experimental models just with
different starting mechanisms and the experiments showed that both blast and
impact sources caused TBI and early stage CTE but only impact caused
concussions this was completely confusing dust so this was at odds with
everything in the literature and with our understanding and in the
conversation I had with Willie oh I remember it very well was how can this
be how can we reconcile those two observations it must be in the realm of
physics and biomechanics it can’t be magic so Lee called and said what is
going on we have this crazy experimental result we don’t understand it it’s
unanticipated totally unexpected so then Willie and his colleagues at Livermore
took the physics of the problem the properties of brain tissue the speed and
force and pressure of the blast wave or the impact and they put it to work in
simulations running on some of the fastest supercomputers in the world
which live here at the lab yeah so supercomputers and the codes that run on
them can be very useful in trying to explain experiments we’ve seen that you
know in a wide variety of subjects so that we have studied there’s a certain
amount of analyst judgment as far as what’s important in the physics and
what’s not and once you have figured out the right material models the right
loadings and all that then you can look in details at a scale that you can’t see
in the experiment as far as okay what exactly is going on where are the
concentrations of stresses where possible sites where damage can occur
and then you can get really and really into detail where you would not be able
to see that in the experiment the simulations allowed us to see in detail
how the stress was affecting the brain and how those forces caused the
different kinds of injuries they do and the details are kind of stunning
essentially what we did was looked at two things we looked at
pressure and shear if you think about the ways you can deform a material you
can basically squeeze it change its volume pressure or you can twist it any
type of deformation you can perform on a material is a combination of those two
the pressures look more or less the same in both cases what we noticed was a
distribution of shear stress was vastly different in the two cases in subjects
that experienced blast there was almost no shear stress the hypothesis here is
that the pressure wave exerts a more uniform force around the head like okay
if this is your head then this is a pressure wave whereas with impact you
have one focused contact point for that same amount of force so the shear stress
that your brain experiences from that unequal distribution of force is what
disrupts small blood vessels nerve fibers and chemical channels in the
brain producing the symptoms of concussion so your initial question was
what is concussion well we still don’t know the answer to that and we don’t and
we don’t understand what the biology is that ties the energy to the acute
problems that we see the reason we have a wishy-washy definition of concussion
that requires a consensus every couple of years to reshape it so we don’t
understand it so again using the tools that we develop together we’re in the
perfect position to understand what concussion is we’ll move very actively
working on that now concussion and CTE are totally unrelated you don’t have to
be concussed to get CTE and vice versa they’re completely separate so so that’s
important because it suggests various strategies one could use to mitigate you
can deal with concussion separately from CTE you want to avoid accelerations to
avoid the chronic traumatic encephalopathy you want to distribute
the load to try and minimize concussion those can be addressed separately and
and it means that there there are some strategies that one can use so a little
bit of the mystery has been removed and this is already leading to prevention
diagnostics and even therapeutics we’ve even worked out what
new therapeutics for this disease now and preventive measures as well and new
diagnostics based on these findings there are many unanswered questions from
what we’ve what we’ve been covered as far as the concussion or not
concentration of shear stress there are some things that Willie is working on
now with Boston to come up with more detailed models the various folds that
are in the brain what effect could that have on concentrations of damage in the
brains the other area of things to be done is more protection with the idea
that a concentrated load causes concussion then if the thread is an
impact load you can try to do design helmets to do a better job of spreading
out that load within the helmet rather than relying on the skull to do it which
you’re getting a concussion it probably is what’s going on it’s sort of like
there’s this giant maze and maybe we’ve cracked the door open and now we can see
inside the maze I think what we did will help with helmet design that’s only
going to affect a piece of the problem it also separates out where to look if
you’re interested in treating say CTE versus concussion because they’re now
separated out we sort of know how much we don’t know we know where to begin
looking and we have a better idea of how to look with some of these results
there’s just a little bit of information that we finally have in hand so there’s
a little bit of understanding and the way any hard problem is solved whatever
the field is is you have this tough problem to analyze and you find a tiny
crack in it and you chip away at it and you start to crack the problem open it’s
just the way very hard problems are solved say we’re at the beginning we’re
really at the beginning we finally reached the beginning of the problem I
think and speaking of the beginning livermore just this past month announced
a collaboration to advance AI research that will work on a huge range of
subjects including improving the diagnosis and treatment of neurological
diseases like CTE this could be the start of a whole new era of
understanding heart brains and how to keep them safe if you want to stay up to
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questions about this research let us know down in the comments below and as
always thanks for watching

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