Center’s Work Will Impact Battlefields, Football Fields and Highways

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When heads collide, injury happens. Traumatic brain injuries, such as concussions and other forms of potentially permanent brain damage, happen daily in car crashes, sporting activities, fights, explosions, falls and other accidents. And while physicians and scientists understand the results of these injuries, less is known about the physiological changes that occur at the moment of impact.

Researchers in the University of Virginia’s Center for Applied Biomechanics – or “The CAB,” as its denizens call it – are looking closely at what happens to the brain under assorted impacts from different angles and intensities, using experimental and computational methods developed and refined over the years from extensive car crash tests and blast simulations.

“We are closely studying the deformation of the human brain under head motions that have been linked to concussion and more severe types of brain injury,” said Matthew Panzer, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering who specializes in developing dynamic computer models of how the brain physically responds to collisions. “We’re developing the tools to reproduce completely the physics of the brain as it’s undergoing deformation from impact.”

“We’ve developed truly unique methods for simulating and conducting impact and blast conditions and analyzing the results. We expect the work to have a significant impact on the field of traumatic brain injury and concussion.”

The models are developed from data collected from a range of physical studies at the center involving fabricated organs in sport impact simulations, automotive crashes and military blasts. Some of the work is geared toward developing new test dummies and computer simulations that accurately mimic reality.

One of the goals is to develop experimental, mathematical and computational tools to predict or assess the likelihood of head injury. These tools can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of helmets, automotive restraints or other measures designed to prevent concussion. Ultimately, researchers plan to bring brain biomechanics to the clinic, and use the predictive brain deformation models in conjunction with advanced neuroimaging for improved diagnosis for individual patients.

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