Calin McGonagle January 19, 2016
Bubbles May Underlie Brain Trauma
Have you ever known someone who’s had a concussion, or has been in an explosion of any sort? Well you may just think of it lightly, but the science involved with concussions and hard impact is more complicated and interesting than you think. When someone gets hit hard or is caught in an explosion, the contact releases pressure waves. These waves damage tissue throughout the body, most of which will heal over different periods of time. But the effects it causes on the brain is very severe and can leave damage that lasts forever. The damage is called traumatic brain injury, or TBI. If scientists could figure out exactly what goes on in the brain to cause TBI then they might be able to prevent it. A research team suspects that the pressure waves create bubbles in the brain, and new data shows that if they do, these bubbles could cause damage that will lead to TBI. Christian Franck’s team works at Brown University. Now that they have analyzed this data, Franck and his team wanted to look at what might happen when neurons (nerve cells) are bombarded by even more intense pressure waves. It’s easy creating pressure waves in a lab for experiments, but controlling intensities and making the bubbles the same size every single time is way harder. Franck made a way to copy pressure waves that have specific intensities. He used varying devices, but found that when he used a laser and adjusted its intensity, he could make the bubbles whatever size they needed to be, and then duplicate that size if needed. In his new experiments he used the laser, which oddly enough created a bubble of steam. This bubble unfortunately gave away as soon as the laser shut off. This caused the cell harm that he wanted to study. Lasers obviously aren’t going off in the brains of humans when they’re hit hard, of course. They don’t even produce bubbles by pressure waves because waves of high pressure would reflect off structures in the brain, such as blood vessels. Then, those echoes would create zones of low pressure. It’s there that the bubbles would form. When bubbles form inside a fluid, it’s called cavitation. Cavitation often happens on the backs of boat propellers because pressure at that place gets low enough that bubbles of water vapor form. The repeated formation and collapse of these bubbles can actually wear away steel. “So imagine what even a single encounter might do to delicate brain tissue,” Franck says. He says one of his goals is to see if cavitation leaves a distinct type of damage in the brain. If it does, researchers should be able to recognize TBI by looking for this signature.
I chose this article because I was really interested in learning about what causes concussions and what TBI is because I’d heard the term before. The words “Traumatic Brain Injury” stuck out to me and so I decided to choose this article. I was looking through Science News for an article that connected to cells because that’s the unit we’re learning about. In this article it talks about neurons which are nerve cells, and really the whole thing has a lot to do with the cells in your brain. I learned a lot about how scientists are trying to find out what causes TBI and how they can prevent it by doing experiments. I didn’t realize how serious TBI was until I read this article. I agree with Franck and how he’s trying to sort out all that talk about pressure waves and also do the experiment with the laser to try and create all the same sized bubbles. This article has a lot to do with what we’re studying in class. We’re learning about cells, and the article is all about the cells in your brain like neurons. You can’t survive without brain cells because your brain controls your breathing, so in the truancy of brain cells, you wouldn’t be able to survive without life support systems. This discovery can affect our society in a big way. If scientists figure this out, there would be so many less deaths. TBI was a factor in the deaths of more than 50,000 people in the United States, and more than 280,00 people with TBI were hospitalized. So if scientists figure out how to prevent it in any way, it would save lives. When I read about all this, it really surprised me and made me realize how badly TBI can damage your brain. I felt so amazed when reading this article, and it was so fascinating to learn about neurons and the brain because I didn’t know anything about it before I started reading!