Caring for Veterans through Discovery & Collaboration

Caring for Veterans through Discovery & Collaboration

Two men with prosthetic legs


National VA Research Week, April 23-27, 2012

VA Research Week is designed to call attention to the achievements of VA researchers and the role they play in providing high quality care for veterans and advancing medical science.

It is an opportunity to educate Veterans, our elected representatives, and the public about the research at VA medical centers and its impact on treating and preventing disease and disability.

This year’s theme is “Caring for Veterans through Discovery & Collaboration.”

“VA researchers are working to finding better ways to accurately diagnose…TBI and PTSD.”

VA Research Targets Wars’ Signature Injuries

Since 2001 more than 1.6 million U.S. troops have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The “signature injuries” of these wars — posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) — affect large numbers of returning Veterans and can’t easily be diagnosed with a blood test, brain scan, or other lab test.

Even as VA clinicians apply the latest methods to help Veterans affected by TBI and PTSD, VA researchers are working to find better ways to accurately diagnose the two conditions, especially in cases where they may overlap in confusing ways.

For example, in a small pilot study, a team with VA and the University of California, San Diego, found that a combination of two imaging technologies — magnetoencephalography (MEG) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) — can show subtle brain injuries that go undetected in conventional CT and MRI scans.

MEG picks up the signals that neurons give off when they fire. DTI picks up abnormalities in the brain’s nerve fibers. More research using these technologies is now underway.

A group of family members watching a TV orientation


VA Researchers Explore Families’ Role in Helping Severely Wounded Veterans

Families of Veterans who have sustained multiple (polytrauma) injuries are the focus of research by a team based at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, home to one of VA’s four main polytrauma centers.

One study underway is called Family and Caregiver Experiences with Polytrauma, or FACES.

Lead investigator Joan Griffin, PhD says the study should provide much-needed information about the current and long-term needs of families—people who, in many cases, will continue to be involved in their loved ones’ care for years or even decades to come.

Other studies by the Minneapolis group aim to make VA polytrauma care more family-centered. That means involving families in the care plan, giving them the right resources, and seeing to their needs.

“If we keep families informed and involved in a way that they want to be involved, and in which the patient wants them to be involved, adherence to treatment, and outcomes, are likely to be better,” says Nina Sayer, PhD, research chairperson for the polytrauma-brain injury Quality Research Enhancement Initiative.

A VA scientist reaching into a germ-free capsule


From ‘Smart’ Electrodes to Electric Bandages, APT Center Researchers are Forging a New Generation of Adaptive Devices

What goes on at the Advanced Platform Technology (APT) Center might sound more like something out of a science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov or Robert A. Heinlein. At this Research Center of Excellence based at the Louis Stokes VA Medical Center in Cleveland, scientists and engineers are developing a material that can mimic brain tissue.

Others are refining a muscle-powered brace that could allow paraplegics to walk and climb stairs. Still others are creating disposable electric bandages to promote faster healing of wounds, and artificial limbs that sync up with the nervous system. “We try to capitalize on advances in materials science and microelectronics,” says APT Center Executive Director Ronald Triolo, PhD.

A case in point is a new type of electrode for use in brain-computer systems. Existing brain electrodes are made of stiff silicon so they don’t fit well in the watery environment of the brain. An APT Center team has created a material that softens once inside the brain, rendering it mechanically invisible.

To learn more about VA research and events marking this year’s National VA Research Week April 23-27 and VA Central Office events (April 26), visit

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