Exploiting Natural Language Processing to Unveil Topics and Trends of Traumatic Brain Injury Research

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Neurotrauma Reports


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has evolved from a topic of relative obscurity to one of widespread scientific and lay interest. The scope and focus of TBI research have shifted, and research trends have changed in response to public and scientific interest. This study has two primary goals: first, to identify the predominant themes in TBI research; and second, to delineate "hot" and "cold" areas of interest by evaluating the current popularity or decline of these topics. Hot topics may be dwarfed in absolute numbers by other, larger TBI research areas but are rapidly gaining interest. Likewise, cold topics may present opportunities for researchers to revisit unanswered questions. We utilized BERTopic, an advanced natural language processing (NLP)-based technique, to analyze TBI research articles published since 1990. This approach facilitated the identification of key topics by extracting sets of distinctive keywords representative of each article's core themes. Using these topics' probabilities, we trained linear regression models to detect trends over time, recognizing topics that were gaining (hot) or losing (cold) relevance. Additionally, we conducted a specific analysis focusing on the trends observed in TBI research in the current decade (the 2020s). Our topic modeling analysis categorized 42,422 articles into 27 distinct topics. The 10 most frequently occurring topics were: "Rehabilitation," "Molecular Mechanisms of TBI," "Concussion," "Repetitive Head Impacts," "Surgical Interventions," "Biomarkers," "Intracranial Pressure," "Posttraumatic Neurodegeneration," "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy," and "Blast Induced TBI," while our trend analysis indicated that the hottest topics of the current decade were "Genomics," "Sex Hormones," and "Diffusion Tensor Imaging," while the cooling topics were "Posttraumatic Sleep," "Sensory Functions," and "Hyperosmolar Therapies." This study highlights the dynamic nature of TBI research and underscores the shifting emphasis within the field. The findings from our analysis can aid in the identification of emerging topics of interest and areas where there is little new research reported. By utilizing NLP to effectively synthesize and analyze an extensive collection of TBI-related scholarly literature, we demonstrate the potential of machine learning techniques in understanding and guiding future research prospects. This approach sets the stage for similar analyses in other medical disciplines, offering profound insights and opportunities for further exploration.