Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sensors to Measure Blast Impacts

While it may still be years away, military medical officials hope to place a sensor on every soldier to be able to measure the impact of a blast while alerting a combat medic to the possibility of a brain injury. According to Michael J. Leggieri Jr, Deputy Coordinator for DOD’s Blast Injury Research Program, fitting helmets with blast sensors that would be used in combat would be the first step to gathering needed data.

The sensor data would be recorded along with other operational data that is typically gathered after an event such as a bomb explosion. The data would be entered into the National Ground Intelligence Center already being used in the field. At the same time, if an injury occurs, the patient data already recorded in a trauma registry is in place.

“The helmet sensors are not medical devices, and the data is not medical data, so it will not be possible for anyone to take the raw sensor data and make any kinds of decisions about medical treatment, or injuries,” Leggieri said.

After the blast data is studied and if found reliable, then the event data will be matched with injury data. The medical community will have access to the data through the Joint Trauma Analysis and Prevention of Injury in Combat Program. Officials want to see if they can make a connection between what is seen on the sensor reading and any resulting injury.

Similar devices could be used in football player’s helmets and if the athletic is hurt, a doctor would be signaled to review the situation. If the devices are used in combat, leaders on the ground could use the data to refer the service member to medical officials who would then use diagnostic tools to determine if an injury occurred.

The Federal government is investing in traumatic brain injury research through DARPA, Office of Naval Research, and the congressionally mandated DOD Traumatic Brain Injury Multidisciplinary Research Consortium Award, which is run by the U.S. Army.

The John Hopkins University, Applied Physics Laboratory has been working on the blast effects on the body for several years. The Biomechanics Section at APL uses a sensor-laden, artificial torso to model how internal organs react to blasts, and the researchers are now developing a head and neck that will help model what goes on inside a skull when it is exposed to a blast.

The company Simbex through SBIR research and development funding was able to develop Head Impact Recording Technology for Field Applications. The system is able to measure head impacts in real-time, and has impact sensors, a processor and transmitter. This technology can transform any helmet or headgear into a head impact monitor.

A data collector receives impact data continuously from the encoders that can be a distance away and is able to monitor dozens of soldiers or helmeted team athletics simultaneously. The software analyzes the data and sends a pager warning if the impact is potentially serious.