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NOVA scienceNOW: Brain Trauma

Program Overview

Scientists discuss concussions—injuries to the brain caused by a blow to the head—and new technologies being developed to diagnose traumatic brain injuries.

This NOVA scienceNOW segment:

  • reports that almost four million high school and college athletes suffer concussions each year. Twenty percent of sports-related head injuries result in traumatic brain injury, and 90 percent of these traumatic brain injuries are from concussions.

  • explains that the brain's grey matter is organized into regions that control specific functions such as speech, movement, and coordination. Even after a concussion, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans of brain grey matter typically appear normal.

  • states that concussions occur in the brain's white matter, which is made of networks of bundled nerve cells that regulate actions and thoughts. White matter also carries water throughout the brain. Tiny tears caused by concussions may disrupt the white matter's ability to contain the water, possibly interfering with communication and impairing brain function.

  • points out that white matter doesn't appear in standard brain scans. A newly developed technology, called Diffuse Tensor Imaging (DTI), reveals white matter changes by examining water flow through white matter.

  • explains that disrupting connections between different brain areas affects attention and memory. To test attention changes, a device was developed that tracks how well eyes follow a moving target. Under normal circumstances, people follow a target smoothly with their eyes. But for someone with a concussion, there are interruptions in the tracking, revealing changes in attention.

  • reveals that if a youth has a head injury during a game, there is no objective way to diagnose it. Researchers are developing a portable version of the eye-tracking system. It diagnoses a possible concussion by recording how well someone's eyes can track a dot moving in a circle.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is recorded off the air.

Teacher's Guide
NOVA scienceNOW: Brain Trauma

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