Improved transportation safety: collaboration with VA

May 21, 2014 College News - Transportation crashes, unfortunately, are a fact of life. Faculty and staff in the Vehicle Crashworthiness Laboratory (VCL) and the Neurosurgery Research Facility (NRF) at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center use their biomedical engineering expertise to minimize the effect crashes have on the people involved.

Their research has led to the federally-mandated side pole crash test that led to the inclusion of side airbags in more vehicles, improvement of vehicle restraint systems, and the development of best practices for extrication of passengers after a crash. They also have used their expertise to evaluate options for minimizing the damage from blasts and blunt trauma to soldiers on the battle field and to improve rehabilitation for those veterans who return from the field injured.

These two facilities are part of the MCW Department of Neurosurgery, which has had a research collaboration with the Zablocki VA Medical Center since 1963.

The VCL, a full-scale crash lab, became fully operational in 1998. It is equipped and staffed for testing vehicles under frontal and side-impact scenarios. It has a 471 ft. track with a 200 horse power DC motor and state-of-the-art data acquisition systems.    

The Neurosurgery Research Facility opened in 2009 to evaluate the safety of vehicle occupants under various crash modes. It houses a simulator sled that mimics a crash pulse to conduct frontal, side- and rear-impact simulations, generating data for biofidelity evaluations of various standard and prototype dummies under various crash modes.  The resulting information has been used to develop new criteria to assess the crashworthiness of vehicles and improve vehicle safety restraint systems.

Together, the two facilities plus the Biomechanics Component Testing Laboratory, increase the College’s research flexibility in proposing new experiments and making the data generated more applicable to modern transportation safety systems that are generated worldwide – like airbags and active seatbelt restraint systems.

The College’s neuroscience research laboratory with both the full-scale crash laboratory and the crash simulator sled laboratory is the only such facility in the world based in an academic setting. 

Major achievements of the Neuroscience Research Laboratories include:

  • Research with the Federal Aviation Administration resulted in a direct safety rule change for occupant neck-injury protection in side-facing aircraft seats.  Final rule changes were published in 2012.
  • Through funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Neurosurgery research labs published research studies on head, neck and lower-extremity injuries in small-overlap crashes directly influenced the design of the new consumer information vehicle crash tests now being done by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
  • Concluded a ten-year study to develop side impact injury criteria for the recent upgrade to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) side impact standards.
  • Contributed to the frontal crash FMVSS to add neck injury criteria to the safety standard.
  • Developed a protocol to protect child occupants from improperly deployed side airbags now adopted as a voluntary manufacturer’s standard.
  • Concluded a seven-year study to help manufacturer’s develop protective countermeasures for far side impact crashes as part of an Australian consortium.
  • A large part of the military continues to use the lower-limb injury criteria that were developed in the labs in the mid-1990s.

Current studies being conducted in the MCW Neuroscience Research Laboratories include:

  • Dynamic Rollover Occupant Protection
    After identifying the incidence and pattern of cervical spine injury in rollover crashes in Australia and the USA, this project assesses the human dynamic head-neck responses and neck injury mechanisms in a rollover equivalent impact conditions. The project is funded through the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, from the Australian Research Council, and Industry funds.
  • Toyota Side Impact Development Program
    This project conducts various types of vehicle and sled impact evaluations at the Vehicle Crashworthiness Laboratory and Neurosurgery Research Facility. The project is funded by Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, North America.
  • Human Injury Tolerance Toward Development and Validation of a Warrior Manikin
    This project delineates and quantifies region-specific injury responses and obtains tolerance criteria under external insults unique to the military (situations such as underbody blast) of the human musculoskeletal system from toe-to-head. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s United States Army Medical Research and Material Command.
  • Injury Criteria for Obliquely Mounted Aircraft Seat Systems
    This project seeks to determine which injuries are most likely to occur to occupants of typical obliquely mounted aircraft seats (often called pod seats) during emergency landing conditions. The project is funded by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.
  • Development of Ultrasound to Measure In-vivo Dynamic Cervical Spine Mechanics
    This project develops predictive models for musculoskeletal injuries from training and operational environments and countermeasures to mitigate injury risk potential. The project is funded by the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and U.S. Department of Defense’s United States Army Medical Research and Material Command.
  • Side Impact Crash Testing for New Car Assessment Program
    This project assesses the crashworthiness of new model year vehicles in a side impact crash. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Crash Injury Research and Engineering Network (CIREN)
    This project collects and analyzes data on real-world crash patients who enter level-1 trauma hospital systems. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Biomedical analysis, tolerance, and mitigation of acute and chronic trauma
    This project evaluates, investigates, and develops tools to mitigate injuries to military personnel from different types of trauma-producing scenarios including underbody vehicle blasts from an IED (improvised explosive device).  The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s United States Army Medical Research and Material Command.
  • Blast and Blunt Mechanisms for Mild-TBI Induce Differing Outcomes
    This project outlines differences in motor, pathological, cognitive, and behavioral outcomes following blast- and blunt-induced mild traumatic brain injury that may eventually be used to define treatments and rehabilitations for veterans. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Prediction and Prevention of Musculoskeletal and Blast Injury During Naval Ops
    This project is building a computational modeling tool to predict injurious environments and scenarios in a military environment particularly relevant to the human head and spine. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research.

The MCW faculty involved in these projects include Dennis J. Maiman, MD, PhD, Chairman and Sanford J. Larson MD, PhD Professor of Neurosurgery; Frank A. Pintar, PhD, Professor of Neurosurgery and Director of the Neuroscience Research Labs; Narayan Yoganandan, PhD, Professor of Neurosurgery and Chief of Biomedical Engineering; and Brian D. Stemper, PhD, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery.  

MCW staff involved in these projects include:

Engineers: Mike Arun, Sajal Chirvi, John DeRosia, Dan Fama, Hans Hauschild, John Humm, Mark Meyer, Jason Moore, Michael Schlick, Alok Shah, Sagar Umale

Techs: Joe Bok, Chuck Bokath, Jim Budzinski, Ron Chmill, Will Curry, Dan Fama, Joe Frank, Paul Gromowski, Keiji Halloway, Dan Huber, Dan Jacobs, Elden Meyer, Vishnu Ranganathan, Mike Rawski, Christy Stadig, Steve Tilistyak, Justine Treuden

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