Gray Matter Innovations Helps Vets Battle Traumatic Brain Injury

Chrisanne Gordon, MD and CEO of Gray Matter Innovations, has been working to improve the recognition and treatment of veterans’ traumatic brain injury (TBI) for over a decade.

“Not getting the correct brain care is a major problem for our returning veterans,” Dr. Gordon said. “I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life obsessed with this.”

This decade of determination began when the son of a close friend was killed in action. A certified rehabilitation physician and survivor of TBI herself, Dr. Gordon reached out to the local VA Hospital in Columbus. “I wanted to help,” she said.

For a year, Dr. Gordon volunteered to evaluate veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who were experiencing signs of mild TBI. She produced a documentary at her own expense and founded Resurrecting Lives Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advocacy of awareness, treatment, and employment of veterans with TBI.

But advocacy and awareness weren’t enough. Dr. Gordon determined to improve the brain rehabilitation therapy for America’s veterans by making it both accessible and effective.

Last year, she founded Gray Matter Innovations, a company that is developing an innovative therapy for veterans with TBI. Currently, fewer than 30 percent of veterans receive any treatment at a Veterans Administration hospital, and only about 10 percent receive brain rehabilitation.

“Gray Matter Innovations is taking what I learned from the more than 550 vets and their families that I have interviewed throughout the years, and from my own experience in recovery,” she said. “We know the solution to TBI recovery is digiceutical, not pharmaceutical.”

TBI Therapy Improves the Lives of Veterans and Their Families

There are over 500,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have sustained mild traumatic brain injuries as they served our nation, in training and in combat.

“I want to make sure the nation understands that TBI is a brain issue, not a mind issue,” Dr. Gordon said. “The solution is to reboot the brain with digital therapy, not hinder the brain networking it with psychotropic medications.”

TBI can occur whether the service person is directly hit in an explosion or not. When there is no observable head injury, TBI often goes unrecognized and untreated, such as with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) which transmit shock waves through the brain, destroying nerve cell connections.

“The shock wave from an IED (improvised explosive device) goes right through a helmet,” said Dr. Gordon, “with a huge pressure and decompression that literally rips brain cells apart indiscriminately. Usually, there is a very dazed feeling and fight or flight kicks in. Those who are in a battle situation often are not treated at the time.”

Traumatic brain injury affects vision, cognition, and balance. Returning veterans will have headaches, dizziness, and often an extreme reaction to light or sound. The brain sets itself on hyper-vigilant mode.

“That isn’t abnormal,” Dr. Gordon said. “It is a survival mechanism, but it causes a veteran’s behavior to change in ways the family doesn’t recognize. When veterans fighting TBI try to get a job or education, everything can collapse. Unemployment, substance abuse, or homelessness, can happen swiftly with a chaotic brain.”

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury can diminish complications and improve the lives of veterans and their families.

Gray Matter Uses Virtual Reality to Treat Vision, Cognition, and Balance

“It’s very common for today’s military members to use a PlayStation 4, which is the hardware we are utilizing to deliver therapy. These young men and women use virtual reality to have a break from the world of war, and we will be using virtual reality to assist with reintegration back to the community,” said Dr. Gordon.

There’s an excitement to rehab driven by virtual reality.

“These young men and women aren’t victims, they are survivors; they are warriors who should be in charge of their own therapy,” she said.

“Having the virtual reality devices at home delivering rehab therapies, which are overseen by physicians utilizing known protocols for success,” said Dr. Gordon, “will allow our veterans and their families to take charge of their own recovery.”

In the last three years, there has been considerable research on TBI, thanks to new technology which allows medical personnel to see into the brain. People of like minds are starting to coalesce.

“We want to work with the VA to get in early to begin therapy,” Dr. Gordon said. “With the really good neurology testing available now, we know that if we keep working the parts of the brain that work, it will draw the part that isn’t working back into the loop, but the brain doesn’t get better gradually. You have to lay down tracks before there’s a circuit that switches on.”

Gray Matter’s first therapies will address vision rehab. Seventy percent of people with TBI can’t adjust to the light. They get headaches and migraines. They can’t adjust to near and far; everything is out of focus.

“Vision is the only one of our sense that goes through the entire brain. More than 20 percent of the brain is involved in seeing, with 40 percent required to both see and move objects,” Dr. Gordon said. “That’s why vision is so vulnerable.”

Gray Matter is in the planning phase for fourth quarter pilot studies for vision at two VA facilities.