Department of Defense supports study to reduce head, neck, chest injury

Oct. 24, 2011 –

BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 24, 2011 – The Virginia Tech–Wake Forest Center for Injury Biomechanics has been awarded a $3.5 million Phase 3 contract from the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command focused on head, neck, and chest injuries in military personnel.

The research plan integrates experimental testing with computational modeling to reduce injuries and fatalities for soldiers. “This funding will allow our research team to answer fundamental questions regarding injury mechanisms that are specific to the military environment,” said principal investigator Stefan Duma, department head of the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

Specifically, this grant will examine blast-induced brain trauma and mechanisms to reduce the risk of injury to the eyes and facial bones. Research will also be conducted to examine the dynamic loading of the neck and thorax as a result of vehicle restraint systems.

Joel D. Stitzel Jr., professor of mechanical engineering at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, is the principal investigator for the components performed at Wake Forest University. Warren Hardy, associate professor; H. Clay Gabler, professor; and Pamela VandeVord, associate professor, all with Virginia Tech and the Center for Injury Biomechanics, are co-principal investigators on the grant.

“By combining the excellent faculty and capabilities at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University, we were able to successfully compete for this funding. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute provided the talent and resources to integrate these programs and succeed in a highly competitive funding arena,” said Duma.

Jon Hankey, Virginia Tech Transportation Institute interim director, said, “This is an exciting growth period for our research efforts in military safety systems. This Phase 3 award will move us even further toward determining the causes of injuries in military personnel thereby allowing us to then development safety mechanisms for the soldiers and transport vehicles.”

Stitzel’s team has experience developing computer models of the human body for injury prediction and studying injuries that occur in real-world scenarios. They will perform computational modeling of blast injuries to the brain and rest of the human body. They will also help with the development of physical surrogates to measure blast loading on the human face and head for integrating experimental and computer modeling results. “We have exceptionally talented people who have experience performing practical research that will help save lives. Some of the problems encountered by our soldiers are unlike anything experienced in the automotive safety arena. Computer modeling helps to bridge that gap,” says Stitzel, who is the program leader of the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University Center for Injury Biomechanics.

The cumulative Department of Defense award to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and Center for Injury Biomechanics for all three phases of this project is $9.1 million. Much of the research for Phase 3 will be performed at the center’s crash sled laboratory located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg. This laboratory opened in 2009 through a new partnership between the center and the transportation institute. With the institute leading the construction efforts, the new lab received strong support from the Virginia Tech Office of Research, Wake Forest University, the Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Virginia Tech’s Institute for Critical Technologies and Applies Sciences.

The Virginia Tech–Wake Forest Center for Injury Biomechanics investigates the mechanical and injury responses and mechanisms associated with trauma on multiple scales. Inherent in this are the study of human tolerance and the development of injury metrics and functions to assess the potential for injury under specific loading conditions. An extension of this is injury mitigation, for which tools for design and evaluation of environments and equipment are developed, such as physical and numerical models or human surrogates. This work contributes to a better understanding of injury that can lead to improved diagnosis and can provide a foundation for new treatment regimes.