June 13, 2011
Device improving both triage and understanding of brain injury by measuring warfighter exposure
Traumatic brain injury (TBI)—frequently referred to as a signature, and often invisible, wound of current conflicts—is commonly thought to have affected more than 200,000 troops over the past decade. These injuries are typically caused by blast exposure and may vary from mild to severe. The majority of the injuries are believed to be in the mild-to-moderate range and can be particularly problematic since they may remain undetected until well after the incident occurs.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency designed, built and is fielding a technology demonstration that may help limit the impacts of TBI by determining the severity of a blast to which a warfighter has been exposed.
The DARPA Blast Gauge is to provide medical personnel with a quantitative measurement of a warfighter’s exposure level, allowing better assessment of the potential for blast-related injuries and the treatment required for each individual soldier.
“In conflicts prior to the 20th century disease accounted for approximately seven times the deaths claimed by battlefield injuries. That fundamentally changed over the past century as improvements in sanitation and evacuation along with medical care advancements significantly reduced both the relative risk of disease and the incidence of battlefield death. In contrast, the risk of blast-induced brain injuries has increased. To begin addressing this challenge, we need to understand the exposures warfighters are experiencing.” explained Jeff Rogers, DARPA program manager.
“DARPA’s Preventing Violent Explosive Neurologic Trauma (PREVENT) program has comprehensively evaluated the physics of the interaction between an IED blast and a neurological system and has determined which blast components are associated with neurologic injury,” explain Rogers. “Our goal was to apply that knowledge to the development of a device capable of addressing today’s urgent need to understand exposure. And we wanted to do this while keeping the additional requirements on the warfighter to a minimum; they already carry enough weight. Those drivers led us to build a disposable, lightweight unit.”
The Blast Gauge contains a microprocessor that controls everything, including sampling of the sensors fast enough to capture the characteristic abrupt changes in overpressure and acceleration associated with blasts. The gauge uses specially designed software to sense and store relevant events, while dramatically reducing the probability of false alarms. The gauges include status lights to assist in field triage and a micro-USB port for downloading data, initially for researchers and eventually to inform medical treatment. Gauges can be attached to helmets, gear or other mounting points on vehicles.
Primary blast injury is believed to result from exposure to the over pressurization wave generated by the blast itself. The pressure wave travels at high speed and is affected by the surrounding environment, such as an enclosed area like inside a vehicle. If blast pressure is severe enough, it can cause air-filled organs such as lungs to collapse. Fluid-filled cavities such the brain are also especially susceptible to injury. Over pressurization dissipates quickly, causing the greatest risk of injury to those closest to the explosion.
“DARPA’s blast dosimeter was developed in 11 months at a cost of about $1 million and is one of those projects that allows DARPA to put capabilities directly into the hands of warfighters,” said Rogers. “Roughly the size of a small stack of quarters, the Army will begin field testing this summer. We will be working closely with the Army and other Services to field this device as quickly as possible and to determine its potential.”
The Rochester Institute of Technology is the performer for this technology development project.
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