December 12, 2014
MEDIA CONTACT: Lisa Ercolano
The recent decertification of two popular lacrosse helmets, the Warrior Regulator and the Cascade Model R, is causing concern for those involved in men’s lacrosse, one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports.
The decertification by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment comes at a time of growing worries about concussions in athletes.
At Johns Hopkins, engineers working at the forefront of traumatic brain injury research have created a novel “digital head” that is helping explain why some physical movements of the brain cause severe damage while others do not.
One of the greatest challenges to deciphering the severity of a concussion is that the damage is invisible and cannot be measured by conventional MRI, CT or PET scans. To overcome this obstacle, Johns Hopkins mechanical engineering professor KT Ramesh and his team of researchers in the Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute, or HEMI, have developed a unique computer model. It examines what happens to the cellular and subcellular structures of the brain when the types of TBI sustained by athletes occur; it also suggests the site of the damage and indicates the types of cognitive impairments (such as blurred vision or memory loss) that might result from a specific injury.
Using real-world data to recreate the physiological and biomechanical dynamics of TBI, the HEMI model provides insights that never before were possible into what happens to a brain’s axons, the long, thin neural threads that carry electrical impulses, when a brain is subjected to rapid and powerful forces or changes of direction—the types of injuries that might result from impact while playing lacrosse.
“In earlier computer models, brain tissue was often treated as this homogeneous material, ignoring the various internal structures that behave very differently from one another,” Ramesh says, explaining that it is the compressing, stretching and twisting of axons that is at the core of this type of traumatic brain injury. The digital head that Ramesh created is the first ever to incorporate axonal damage into computer models of head trauma. In addition, Ramesh’s model accounts for rotational acceleration, a factor that is not incorporated in many other biomechanical models of TBI.
Among Ramesh’s findings: The human brain is better able to sustain forces applied in head-on collisions than in side-on, lateral ones and the greatest damage to axons occurs from rotational motion, or shear. Such findings could have significant implications on the design and materials of helmets in the future.
Note: To interview KT Ramesh, please contact Lisa Ercolano at Lde@jhu.edu or 443-845-3148.