As recently reported in Medical News Today, brain injury may occur within one millisecond after a human head is thrust into a windshield as a result of a motor vehicle collision, according to research conducted by Paul Taylor, an engineer at Sandia National Laboratories (Sandia), and Corey Ford, M.D., a University of New Mexico (UNM) Health Sciences Center neurologist. The discovery was made after modeling early-time wave interactions in the human head following impact with a windshield, one scenario leading to the onset of traumatic brain injury (TBI). TBI is associated with loss of functional capability of the brain to perform cognitive and memory tasks, process information, and perform a variety of motor and coordination functions. Greater than five million people in the United States endure disabilities associated with TBI.
“In the past not a lot of attention was paid to modeling early-time events during TBI,” Taylor says. “People would – for example – be in a car accident where they hit their head on a windshield, feel rattled, go to an emergency room, and then be released. We were interested in why people with head injuries of similar severity often have very different outcomes in memory function or returning to work.” More notice has been given to TBI in recent years due to the large number of military personnel returning home from Iraq with head injuries caused by blast waves from discharged improvised explosive devices.
The two researchers began by importing a digitally processed, computed tomography (CT) scan of a healthy human head into a shock physics computer code, which was then digitally processed to segment all soft tissue and bone into three distinct materials – skull, brain, and cerebral spinal fluid (CSF). Computer models were then constructed representing the skull, brain, CSF, and windshield glass.
“The results of our simulations demonstrate the complexities of the wave interactions that occur among the skull, brain, and CSF as the result of the frontal impact with the glass windshield,” Taylor says. The modeling represents what would happen to an unrestrained person hitting the windshield of an automobile in a 34 mph head-on collision with a stationary barrier. It became clear that different types of cell damage might occur depending on the type of stress to which the cells are exposed.
“Through our modeling we were able to predict early-time stress focusing within the brain during an impact event. However, we have yet to identify what specific levels of stress will lead to TBI,” Taylor says.
“This is the focus of our future research effort. Furthermore, our current models simulate the brain as homogeneous. We want to create a higher-resolution simulation capability that better represents the various portions of the brain to provide detailed specificity of our results.”
These capabilities may allow researchers such as Taylor and Ford to have a better understanding of how the early-time stress contributes to TBI and aid in the design of better protection devices, such as headgear for sports and military personnel.
For more information about TBI, see The Brain Injury Association of America and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control of the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
If you or a family member has suffered TBI or other injuries in connection with an automobile collision, please contact us on-line at Regan Zambri & Long or call us at (202) 960-4596 for a free consultation.