Developing highly specific computer models to better diagnose concussions in real time

September 13, 2017
Songbai Ji, associate professor of biomedical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, is researching how injuries affect functionally important neural pathways and specific areas of the brain. Credit: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

As fall sports seasons get under way and concerns related to concussions in contact sports continue to grow, a Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) biomedical engineering professor is developing better tools to understand the mechanics of traumatic brain injuries in athletes.

With two grants from the National Institutes of Health, Songbai Ji is using advanced neuroimaging to develop highly specific computer models of the head and brain to better diagnose concussions in real time.

Ji, whose research integrates neuroimaging into existing brain injury research, focuses on how injuries affect functionally important neural pathways and specific areas of the brain. While there are numerous studies that essentially view the brain as a single unit to determine injury, Ji says, certain components like white matter neural tracts (tissue that helps coordinate communication between different regions of the brain) deep within the brain are more vulnerable and thus may be better indicators of injury.

Ji is developing a sophisticated head injury computer model to produce a strain map as part of a four-year $1.5 million NIH grant, titled "Accumulated white matter fiber strain from repetitive head impacts in contact sports." Co-principal investigators include colleagues from Dartmouth College, Indiana University School of Medicine, and medical device developer Simbex. In a separate two-year, $461,545 NIH grant, titled "Model-based cumulative analysis of on-field head impacts in ," Ji is working to make the model simulation in real time.

"Typically it would take hours to produce a detailed strain map for each impact to determine if someone has a concussion," said Ji. "But we are developing a model simulation in real time."

Sports concussions have been a growing concern for years. According to the most current data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012, nearly 330,000 children aged 19 or younger were treated in emergency rooms across the United States for sports and recreation-related injuries that included a diagnosis of concussion or .

Ji envisions that, in the future, an athlete on the field could be wearing protective gear, such as a helmet or mouthguard, equipped with an impact sensor. When an athlete's head is struck, the sensor would record the acceleration, which would provide input to the computer model.

Because Ji will have pre-computed various strain maps into a computer, athletic trainers could quickly retrieve a strain map of the blow that could be used to assess injury risk.

"But the computational cost is now too high for real-world applications," Ji said, "and that's why we are also developing a simulation technique."

Ji added that many current concussion studies are looking at acceleration magnitudes, much like a "hit count" - the number of times an athlete's head has been hit - rather than considering how many times a specific region experiences a certain level of strain and deformation, which is likely more related to the extent of the actual injury. Ji's lab is looking at the role such repeated straining plays in the severity of concussions.

In a recently published paper in Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology, Ji and his research associates found that, in addition to the findings about deep , a rigorous cross-validation of injury prediction performance has been lacking in studies. They proposed a general framework to address this issue in future studies.

"I am very encouraged by the research and think that we can make an impact in this crucial health area," Ji says. "My research team understands just how important it is to advance research for athletes of both genders and of all ages."

Explore further: Researchers test new technique to help with concussion diagnosis

More information: Wei Zhao et al. Injury prediction and vulnerability assessment using strain and susceptibility measures of the deep white matter, Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology (2017). DOI: 10.1007/s10237-017-0915-5

Related Stories

Researchers test new technique to help with concussion diagnosis

August 24, 2017
Sports-related concussions are a major public health concern and are notoriously difficult to diagnose. But new research from UBC's Okanagan campus provides a new tool to help test athletes for recent brain trauma. "Diagnosing ...

Know the signs of concussion

August 2, 2017
(HealthDay)—Concussions have been in the news a lot because of health problems experienced by football players, but you don't have to be a professional athlete to suffer this injury.

Brain recovery longer than clinical recovery among athletes following concussion, research suggests

August 24, 2017
University athletes with a recent concussion had changes in their brain structure and function even after they received medical clearance to return to play, a new study has found.

PTSD may be physical and not only psychological

July 11, 2017
The part of the brain that helps control emotion may be larger in people who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after brain injury compared to those with a brain injury without PTSD, according to a study released ...

Athletes may have white matter brain changes six months after a concussion

July 7, 2016
New research finds white matter changes in the brains of athletes six months after a concussion. The study will be presented at the Sports Concussion Conference in Chicago, July 8-10, hosted by the American Academy of Neurology, ...

Three ways neuroscience can advance the concussion debate

June 21, 2017
While concussion awareness has improved over the past decade, understanding the nuances of these sports injuries, their severity, symptoms, and treatment, is still a work in progress. In the June 21 issue of Neuron, UCLA ...

Recommended for you

Scientists find key to regenerating blood vessels

November 23, 2017
A new study led by researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) identifies a signaling pathway that is essential for angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing vessels. The ...

Researchers find infectious prions in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease patient skin

November 22, 2017
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD)—the human equivalent of mad cow disease—is caused by rogue, misfolded protein aggregates termed prions, which are infectious and cause fatal damages in the patient's brain. CJD patients ...

Surprising roles for muscle in tissue regeneration, study finds

November 22, 2017
A team of researchers at Whitehead has illuminated an important role for different subtypes of muscle cells in orchestrating the process of tissue regeneration. In a paper published in the November 22 issue of Nature, they ...

Study reveals new mechanisms of cell death in neurodegenerative disorders

November 22, 2017
Researchers at King's College London have discovered new mechanisms of cell death, which may be involved in debilitating neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

Cinnamon turns up the heat on fat cells

November 21, 2017
New research from the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute has determined how a common holiday spice—cinnamon—might be enlisted in the fight against obesity.

How rogue immune cells cross the blood-brain barrier to cause multiple sclerosis

November 21, 2017
Drug designers working on therapeutics against multiple sclerosis should focus on blocking two distinct ways rogue immune cells attack healthy neurons, according to a new study in the journal Cell Reports.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.