Joint Pathology Center doctors use forensic science to treat wounded warriors

(Photo courtesy breahn via Flickr)

It's like an episode of TV's CSI.

Doctors at the Joint Pathology Center are relying more and more on forensic science to determine how to treat everything from bullet wounds to IED blasts as soon as a they happen in the battle field. Under a microscope, they look at metal fragments which can lodge inside the body after impact.

Foreign material like depleted uranium must be removed immediately. Prolonged exposure can lead to a myriad of health problems, from neurological complications to cancer.

"At this lab, what we do is that we look at these cases and try to characterize the foreign material in the tissue,” says Dr. Jose Centeno of the Joint Pathology Center.

Using cutting edge technology, doctors figure out what elements are present in tissue samples, then send that information to clinics such as Walter Reed to help treat injured patients.

"That allows the [Department of Veteran's Afffairs] to figure out how do you manage these patients, do you remove the fragments? What type of care do they need?” said Col. Thomas Baker, Interim Director of the Joint Pathology Center.

The lab says that there are roughly 5,000 soldiers who have suffered a traumatic injury and may have some sort of foreign material still lodged in their body. And as the war in the Middle East winds down, this type of analysis will become increasingly important.