Young Scientist Uses 3D Printing to Help Diagnose Concussions

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[Image: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images]

A concussion can be a dangerous thing if left untreated. Without the proper rest and recovery time needed to rehabilitate a concussion, effects can last for years, ranging from fatigue to brain fog to seizures, and even worse. In the most extreme circumstances, serious behavioral changes have been seen, even to the point of suicide or homicide. Professional football players who have committed tragic acts such as these have been found to display evidence of long-ago traumatic brain injuries such as concussions. These types of cases are rare, but head injuries, no matter what, should never be ignored or brushed off.

The problem is that a concussion can be difficult to detect, especially in an athlete who has been taught to just “shake off” pain or discomfort. Many people think that a concussion always results in a loss of consciousness, but it doesn’t, so it’s important not to ignore other symptoms. In addition, an actual blow to the head isn’t necessary for a concussion, either. Any movement that causes the head to move violently enough to jostle the brain can cause one.

Liam O’Mara, a second year student at Castletroy College, got hit on the head while playing sports, and while it didn’t cause a concussion, it made him think about better ways to determine the extent of head injuries on the field. So he is developing a device that he named the Hel-Mate for the BT Young Scientist competition. The Hel-Mate is a small box that attaches to the back of a helmet and identifies impacts that cross a certain g-force threshold, which would alert a team medic.

An accelerator in the device would measure the movement on the head of an athlete, and that data would be interpreted by a microprocessor. The data would be sent to an iPad held by a coach or medic. If an impact causes a level of g-force strong enough to cause a concussion, the medic can call the player off the field for an examination.

O’Mara is still working on the device; he is currently 3D printing a housing for it to fit into and believes he can make it smaller and easier to fit onto a helmet. An intermittent problem with the transmitter is being worked out as well. He is also working on developing the code for the app that will be used to transmit the data to the iPad at the side of the field.

The tragic stories resulting from traumatic brain injuries have spurred a great deal of research and work towards making helmets more effective at preventing these types of injuries. Much of that work has involved 3D printing, as manufacturers use the technology to better prototype and design new types of helmets that can better protect players from concussions and other injuries. Injuries are still going to happen, however, and there’s still going to be a danger of them going undetected, especially injuries that don’t result from an actual blow to the head. O’Mara’s device won’t prevent those injuries, but it will allow them to be caught right away, preventing greater complications and even tragedies in the future.

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[Source: TheJournal.ie]

 

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