X-rays and cadavers: How professors from Ottawa, Waterloo are enhancing concussion research

Researchers hope findings could be used to modernize helmet certifications

Posted: July 25, 2017

From left: Hanspeter Frei, Scott Dutrisac, Oren Petel, and Stéphane Magnan are part of a team studying the impact of concussions on the human brain. (Photo courtesy Chris Roussakis)

After receiving nearly $700,000 in funding, researchers from Ottawa and Waterloo are putting their heads together to study how cranial impact affects the brain, in hopes of preventing concussions.

The research team will be using a high-speed X-ray machine on cadavers to look at how the brain is deformed when pressure is applied to the head. 

Oren Petel, an associate professor in Carleton University's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, specializes in high-speed impact explosives and ballistics. 


He told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning he will be teaming up with the University of Ottawa's Blaine Hoshizaki and Patrick Bishop of the University of Waterloo. With expertise from Hoshizaki, who works with cadavers for his own research, Petel hopes their research will produce more realistic results, rather than using metal or plastic models.

"If we can take a helmet and evaluate it based on the actual strain that develops, the stretching and the shear within the brain, then we can have a better sense of how that helmet is transferring the load into the head and perhaps redesign or change the mindset in how we design helmets," Petel said. 

Research could change helmet design

To measure the pressure on the brain, the team will use a state-of-the-art cineradiography facililty at Carleton — equipment that is able to produce images at thousands of frames per second. 

The Canadian Institutes for Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada provided $681,857 for the team's research. 

Petel said their findings could be used to modernize helmet certifications. 

"The cadaver data, that will be useful in terms of disseminating that information to standards organizations and they may want to rethink the compliance or the design of their current [helmets] that would have a more immediate impact."


The Department of National Defence is also involved in the project. 

"The money will be used to bring top quality talent into the university's PhDs, masters students and develop these tools with this team," Petel said. 

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