NIH grant to enable researchers to create 3-D models to study brain mechanics

The field of studying brain mechanics just got a boost--a $2.25 million grant at the Washington University in St. Louis will fund engineering researchers in better understanding traumatic brain injuries to improve methods for prevention and treatment.

According to an announcement from the university, the grant, from the National Institutes of Health, will allow professors of mechanical engineering and their research team to develop 3-D computer models of brain biomechanics "that will give researchers a better understanding about what happens to the brain during traumatic brain injury." Previously, Philip Bayly, professor and chair of the university's Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, was working in 2-D to measure brain motion with his team.

The researchers are concerned about head trauma from hitting one's head, a factor especially pertinent in the National Football League, where a lawsuit representing about one-third of living former NFL players regards head injuries. The NFL has been accused of providing no information to players connecting football-related head injuries to brain damage and memory loss.

In January, it was reported that researchers were using brain imaging to identify abnormal brain proteins associated with traumatic head injury in five retired professional NFL players. As FierceMedicalImaging reported, "long-term health issues resulting from sports-related concussions and brain trauma have been hot topics in the news recently, as evidence grows that athletes exposed to these injuries may develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition caused by a build up of tau protein."

In the university announcement, Bayly said, "We are concerned about everyone who hits their head…It's not only a factor for NFL players, but anyone who's had a traumatic brain injury is at greater risk for Alzheimer's disease and potentially other neurological disorders. We're also concerned about basketball players or soccer players who also get concussions, so it's a widespread problem."

The team plans to get a 3-D picture of the brain in normal head motions and also during mild head acceleration. They will assess residual stress on the brain and compare 3-D displacement and strain fields to the computer models, according to Bayly. He added that the study will be an example of where understanding mechanics gives insight into mechanism and therapeutic strategy.

To learn more:
- read the announcement from Washington University in St. Louis

Related Articles:
Imaging technique holds potential for early diagnosis of athlete brain disorders
Neural imaging shows how human brain adapts to trauma
MRI detects changes in post-concussion syndrome patients

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