The Pentagon is seeking a battlefield device to diagnose brain injury within seconds by scanning it. Sounds like the Star Trek kind of handheld medical scanning technology will become reality before we know it.

Roadside bombs have made brain damage a grim hallmark of modern war. A RAND study out today says 320,000 U.S. troops may have suffered brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan — and less than half say they were ever evaluated by a doctor.

Even where there’s no unconsciousness or visible head wound, mild brain damage, without prompt treatment, can cause lasting problems.
U.S. soldiers investigate the scene of a bomb explosion which targeted a U.S. military vehicle April 2006 in Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo: Associated Press)

So how to tell if a soldier is just shaken up, or if he has a concussion needing quick attention? Brain scans aren’t realistic in a battle zone; and thorough field tests can take 15 minutes or more (see a Navy version of the clinical practice guideline for managing concussions). Besides, symptoms of concussion or other mild traumatic brain injury are often easy to confuse with psychological problems and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Pentagon’s answer: A gizmo that could evaluate a soldier in seconds. And the Defense Department is giving the Brain Trauma Foundation $4.6 million over four years to come up with a device that can do just that–and is rugged enough to function in Iraq.