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Developing a computer model to better diagnose brain damage, concussions

In an effort to better evaluate and prevent concussions and head traumas, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a computer model to identify what types of jarring movements to the body can cause injury to the brain. As explained in a university release:

[Researchers] used a powerful technique called diffusion tensor imaging, together with a computer model of the head, to identify injured axons, which are tiny but important fibers that carry information from one brain cell to another. These axons are concentrated in a kind of brain tissue known as “white matter,” and they appear to be injured during the so-called mild traumatic brain injury associated with concussions. [The] team has shown that the axons are injured most easily by strong rotations of the head, and the researchers’ process can calculate which parts of the brain are most likely to be injured during a specific event.


Beyond its use in evaluating combat and sports-related injuries, the work could have wider applications, such as detecting axonal damage among patients who have received head injuries in vehicle accidents or serious falls. “This is the kind of injury that may take weeks to manifest,” [ Johns Hopkins researcher K. T. Ramesh, PhD,] said. “By the time you assess the symptoms, it may be too late for some kinds of treatment to be helpful. But if you can tell right away what happened to the brain and where the injury is likely to have occurred, you may be able to get a crucial head-start on the treatment.”

Researchers plan to combine the findings with additional data, including reconstructed motions from serious sports-related collisions and information about athletes' protection gear, to provide guidance on treatment and rehabilitation of injured players.

The study comes at a time when concerns about sports-related concussions continue to grow. Yesterday, the National Football League and General Electric Co. announced a significant investment to accelerate research on brain trauma and the development of technology to prevent concussions among athletes, soldiers and others.

Similarly, Stanford researchers are continuing to study data from mouthpieces equipped with tiny sensors to measure the force of head impacts sustained by football players during games and practices. The goal of the project is to determine which types of football collisions cause concussions and whether any positions or particular plays are associated with greater risk of brain injuries.

Previously: Stanford researchers working to combat concussions in football, Mental and emotional costs of a concussion, A conversation with Daniel Garza about football and concussionsHigh-tech mouthpieces used to advance medical understanding of concussions in football and When can athletes return to play? Stanford researchers provide guidance
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