Carleton teams up with other universities for concussion research study

Carleton professors are involved in a new three-year research project on the effects of concussions and head injuries on the brain.

The researchers will examine animal cadavers for the effects of cranial impact on the brain to improve helmet designs, before progressing to human cadavers next year. The goal is that the research will help lead to a decrease in the chance of athletes sustaining head/brain injuries.

Carleton’s Impact Dynamics Research Group and the University of Ottawa’s (U of O) Neurotrauma Impact Science Laboratory came together for this new collaborative project, which includes professors and graduate students from both universities, as well as from the University of Waterloo (U of W).

The Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Natural Sciences and the Engineering Research Council of Canada contributed a total of $681,857 in funding to the project.

“The focus is to try to revamp certification or valuation of helmet performance,” Carleton professor Oren Petel said. “We’re developing new technologies, new methodologies of investigating helmet performance.”

Both Petel and Hanspeter Frei, mechanical and aerospace engineering professors at Carleton respectively, will be working with U of O’s Blaine Hoshizaki and U of W’s Patrick Bishop.

Petel said the research will focus on brain deformation as well as the “dynamics of the brain.”

“The hope is that we can look at a whole different range of impacts, from a sub-concussive impact to a post-threshold impact,” Petel said. “Even though you wouldn’t register as having been concussed, there may be regions of your brain where there’s still damage.”

Petel said the research will be looking at concussions from a mechanical rather than clinical point of view. He explained that they will not be looking at the specific health effects of brain injuries, which means no monitoring of patients or subjects for longer-term health issues.

“We have an impact and we want to know what the deformation you’ll see within the head will be and how that head will move,” Petel said.

Carleton’s state-of-the-art cineradiography facility, which produces detailed X-ray movies, will help researchers examine the brain by mapping tissue damage, strain, and specific areas of deformation, according to Petel.

“You can know how much deformation there is regionally or globally, kind of a full field of understanding of what the deformation field is on this plate,” Petel said.

According to Frei, having cadavers is important for what the project is setting out to accomplish.

“When we have the computer models and the data from the cadavers, we can look at how we make a better surrogate [head model] that actually captures the deformation,” Frei said.

Despite receiving funding for the project, Frei said that getting the necessary resources together may prove to be a tough task. He said that on top of live cadavers, they will need X-ray equipment and precise conditions to make the study work.

“It’s extremely difficult to do,” Frei said.

According to Petel, possible changes to help decrease the likelihood of brain injuries include better helmet head models and forms, instead of just the plastic or metal head models that are common today. An improved model may include a multi-material head form, which is a more complex system with deformable parts.

“This will provide new tools to helmet manufacturers that could be used to design helmets around minimizing deformation internally around specific regions,” Petel said.

Frei said he hopes to build on previous data collected in other studies to help improve his newest project.

“To have another study confirming those results, looking at different spots in the brain—that would be huge,” Frei said. “When you come up with a better surrogate, I think that would be the icing on the cake.”