Development of a Minipig Model of BINT From Blast Exposure Using a Repeatable Mobile Shock Expansion Tube
Introduction: The Office of Naval Research (ONR) sponsored the Blast Load Assessment Sense and Test (BLAST) program to provide an approach to operationally relevant monitoring and analysis of blast exposure for optimization of service member performance and health. Of critical importance in this effort was the development of a standardized methodology for preclinical large animal studies that can reliably produce outcome measures that cannot be measured in human studies to support science-based guidelines. The primary advantage of this approach is that, because animal studies report physiological measures that correlate with human neuropathology, these data can be used to evaluate potential risks to service members by accounting for the anatomical and physiological differences between humans and large animal models. This article describes the methodology used to generate a comprehensive outcome measure dataset correlated with controlled blast exposure. Methods and materials: To quantify outcomes associated with a single exposure to blast, 23 age- and weight-matched Yucatan minipigs were exposed to a single blast event generated by a large-bore, compressed gas shock tube. The peak pressure ranged from 280 to 525 kPa. After a post-exposure 72-hour observation period, the physiological response was quantified using a comprehensive set of neurological outcome measures that included neuroimaging, histology, and behavioral measures. Responses of the blast-exposed animals were compared to the sham-treated cohort to identify statistically significant and physiologically relevant differences between the two groups. Results: Following a single exposure, the minipigs were assessed for structural, behavioral, and cellular changes for 3 days after exposure. The following neurological changes were observed: Structural- Using Diffusion Tensor Imaging, a statistically significant decrement (P < .001) in Fractional Anisotropy across the entire volume of the brain was observed when comparing the exposed group to the sham group. This finding indicates that alterations in brain tissue following exposure are not focused at a single location but instead a diffuse brain volume that can only be observed through a systematic examination of the neurological tissue. Cellular- The histopathology results from several large white matter tract locations showed varied cellular responses from six different stains. Using standard statistical methods, results from stains such as Fluoro-Jade C and cluster of differentiation 68 in the hippocampus showed significantly higher levels of neurodegeneration and increased microglia/macrophage activation in blast-exposed subjects. However, other stains also indicated increased response, demonstrating the need for multivariate analysis with a larger dataset. Behavioral- The behavior changes observed were typically transient; the animals' behavior returned to near baseline levels after a relatively short recovery period. Despite behavioral recovery, the presence of active neurodegenerative and inflammatory responses remained. Conclusions: The results of this study demonstrate that (1) a shock tube provides an effective tool for generating repeatable exposures in large animals and (2) exposure to blast overpressure can be correlated using a combination of imaging, behavioral, and histological analyses. This research demonstrates the importance of using multiple physiological indicators to track blast-induced changes in minipigs. The methodology and findings from this effort were central to developing machine-learning models to inform the development of blast exposure guidelines.