Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is the signature wound of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Conservative estimates put the number of U.S. warfighters who have experienced TBI at more than 200,000. Battlefield medical personnel today rely on visual signs and the personal accounts of patients to alert them to the possibility of TBI. The DARPA Blast Gauge provides a quantitative means for measuring blast related exposure, thus providing a mechanism for medical personnel to better identify those at risk for TBI. The gauge collects quantitative data to provide medics with a screening tool and data for uncovering the mechanisms of TBI.
During a recent engagement, a Soldier suffered a shrapnel injury and did not report a blast exposure to the medic treating his visible wounds. The medic opted to check the Blast Gauges on the Soldier; which told the real story. The Soldier’s gauges displayed yellow lights, indicating a moderate exposure occurred during the engagement. In response, the medics downloaded data from the gauges and followed standard protocol for evaluating someone at risk for TBI. It was determined that the Soldier had suffered a mild TBI and treatment began immediately.
This is one example drawn from DARPA’s pilot testing of the Blast Gauge, which began last year.
It is a small self-contained system that measures the amount of blast exposure to which a warfighter has been exposed. The first phase of the pilot included an initial Army brigade-level fielding that involved approximately 900 Soldiers, in an active combat role. Today the DARPA Blast Gauge is used by more than 6,400 warfighters in a variety of units across the Military. Phase II of the pilot calls for plans to double that number over the next month.
“DARPA Blast Gauge provides doctors with information on what their patient actually experienced during an exposure.” said Jeff Rogers, DARPA program manager. “After a blast, medics check a wristwatch-sized device displaying a green, yellow or red status light to indicate the relative risk of injury. This is an entirely new capability and has already helped medics and doctors in treating injured warfighters.”
The Gauge provides warfighters with an immediate triage capability and collects quantitative data for later analysis. While the Army continues its efforts to develop its long-term TBI diagnostic solution for the battlefield, the $45 per unit DARPA Blast Gauge fills an immediate need—accurate measurements for medical teams and visible signs of exposure. “The gauges work extremely well,” explained U.S. Army Major Theodore R. Stefani, MD. “…there is resistance [among Soldiers] to doing anything that might take them ‘out of the fight.’ The paradigm of not seeking medical aid for the ‘invisible injuries’ of war, which include PTSD and TBI, is changing but there is still some reluctance to seeking aid. In the last 24 months, the rate of TBI diagnosis has increased. The blast gauge does not diagnose a TBI, but it does help ensure that a Soldier seeks care. After a blast event, the Soldier may downplay their symptoms, but if they have an amber or red indicator light on their blast gauge, that can't be downplayed.”
In its 2013 National Defense Authorization Act Report, the House Armed Services Committee encouraged the military Services to begin using the DARPA Blast Gauge.
Under contract to DARPA, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) developed the gauge in just 11 months and for a total development cost of approximately $1 million. In response to DARPA’s need for larger production quantities and rapid device refinement, RIT researchers subsequently formed BlackBox Biometrics, a small business, to commercialize and manufacture the Blast Gauges.
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