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Fort Bragg soldiers part of $2.8M traumatic brain injury research study

Fort Bragg (Fort Bragg/Released)

Piano tones created by the brains of soldiers with mild traumatic brain injury are being studied to determine whether the tones can help those soldiers and others.

Womack Army Medical Center is one of two military medical facilities in the nation testing the technology through a $2.8 million research grant approved by Congress. Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, is the other facility.

The neurotechnology developed by Arizona-based wellness center Cereset is a noninvasive intervention that aims to restore the balance of brain function, said Dr. Wesley Cole, a neuropsychologist at Fort Bragg’s Intrepid Spirit Center.

Using the Cereset neurotechnology, wires are taped to a soldiers’ head as he or she relaxes in a chair. The wires are connected to a computer, which converts the brain waves into music tones.

“So in real time, they’re hearing what their brain is doing,” Cole said. “And what ends up happening as the brain is basically getting instant feedback on its own activity, it will relax.”

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The majority of the 45 Fort Bragg soldiers testing the technology have suffered injuries while on a deployment, from roadside bomb blast exposure, falls or vehicle crashes, said Cole, who also is the lead researcher for the study.

“We measure common symptoms after a concussion — things like cognitive functions — so attention, their sleep, how’s their mood,” Cole said.

Symptoms are measured at the beginning of the study, midway through, a couple of months after the fifth session and six months later to determine if there are any improvements.

Lt. Col. Tyler Harris is a research monitor for the study, but he volunteered to test the equipment last year as it was being set up for the larger study.

Harris, who has been in the military for 22 years, said he’s had mild traumatic brain injury in the past and was interested in the technology from a post-traumatic stress disorder standpoint.

“I’ve been through a lot of traumatic experiences … and my brain would cycle through those experiences while I was doing this treatment, and so I noticed quite a bit of difference,” Harris said.

Specifically, he said, after about his fifth session, his wife noticed he was sleeping better and was more “even keel.”

Officials said those participating in the study at Fort Bragg are a combination of test and placebo test subjects.

Researchers monitoring the brain patterns from a computer screen don’t know if they’re looking at brain activity from someone receiving the intervention of the tones linked to their brain or if they’re looking at unlinked tones, Cole said.

“But we’re seeing a really positive response in general from soldiers that are going through this,” he said.

Harris demonstrated the technology Wednesday. Nora Rachels, a research coordinator, said Harris’ brain “listens to itself” by listening to piano notes.

“The brain is essentially hearing itself and trying to recognize it doesn’t sound right — it’s not where it should be — and trying to bring it back into balance,” Rachels said.

Midway through the study, Cole said researchers aren’t yet able to definitely tell whether the technology treatment is effective, but they are encouraged by what has been seen so far.

“We hope that if it is beneficial for service members, it’ll be beneficial for anybody with persistent symptoms after (traumatic brain injury),” Cole said.

Officials said the objective is to measure the technology’s effectiveness, which evaluates tones delivered to a subject’s brain and is guided by the brain’s own rhythms, compared with random unguided tones.

“Once we realized the prevalence of (mild traumatic brain injuries) amongst servicemen, it became our duty to help these soldiers transition back to a functional and healthy brain potential” said Lee Gerdes, Cereset founder and CEO.

Gerdes said the technology is designed to alleviate the symptoms and negative effects of brain trauma.

“We’re pleased that the study is yielding positive results and that our technology is aiding the men and women who take on the selfless responsibilities of defending our country to be fully prepared for the next steps in their lives,” he said.

Cole said he expects the results to be published by next year.

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© 2019 The Fayetteville Observer 

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.