Military vehicle in the field

Shock-absorbing vehicle frame could prevent traumatic brain injury

Image credit: Dreamstime

Researchers at the University of Maryland have developed an elastic frame for military vehicles which could prevent soldiers suffering traumatic brain injury (TBI) after land mine explosions beneath their vehicle.

In the past 18 years of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 250,000 troops are believed to have suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI can cause upsetting physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioural changes and can also sometimes lead to permanent disabilities or even death.

“Intense acceleration can destroy synapses, damage nerve fibres, stimulate neuroinflammation and damage the brain’s blood vessels,” said Dr Gary Fiskum, a University of Maryland anaesthesiologist involved in the study.

Previously, most research in this area has been focused on brain injuries caused by rapid changes in barometric pressure (“overpressure”). This project was the first to focus on TBI caused by under-vehicle explosions, which occur even in the absence of significant pressure changes.

During under-vehicle explosions, occupants of the vehicle experience a large, sharp acceleration that can cause TBI. In this study, the researchers were able to identify the molecular mechanisms responsible for this form of TBI.

Through a collaboration between the University of Maryland school of medicine and its school of engineering, this project led to the development of materials and a new elastic vehicle frame design which can reduce blast acceleration by up to 80 per cent.

The frame incorporates polyurea-coated tubes within the structure to help reduce the dangerous acceleration. Polyurea is a compressible material which rebounds after compression, allowing some shock to be absorbed.

The Maryland researchers found that reducing this acceleration almost entirely eliminates loss of neuronal connections and behavioural changes in an animal model.

“The research team has addressed an important clinical problem by identifying a novel mechanism to explain TBI, engineered a solution to the problem and convincingly demonstrated improvements in morphology and behaviour,” said Professor Peter Rock, chair of the department of anesthesiology at the University of Maryland.

“This work has important implications for improving outcomes in military blast-induced TBI and might be applicable to causes of civilian TBI, such as car crashes.”

In the future, the engineers and medical scientists could continue to work together to adapt this device for military vehicle bumpers – potentially becoming a standard component of armoured military vehicles – as well as for civilian applications, in order to reduce TBI caused by road accidents.

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