As a postdoctoral researcher in David Camarillo’s lab at Stanford University, Kurt and fellow postdoc at the time Kaveh Laksari, outfitted 31 college football players with special mouthguards that recorded how players’ heads moved after an impact, including a few cases in which players suffered concussions. They then looked at shear wave propagation patterns inside the brain at different speeds and used that data, along with similar data from professional players in the NFL, as inputs to a computer model of the brain. The model allowed them, in greater detail than ever before, to infer what happened in the brain that led to a concussion.
Kurt and his colleagues found that concussions and other mild traumatic brain injuries seem to arise when deep white matter regions of the brain, particularly the corpus callosum shakes more rapidly and intensely than surrounding areas. After an average hit, the researchers’ computer model suggests the brain shakes back and forth around 30 times a second in a fairly uniform way, that is, most parts of the brain move in unison.
Complex displacement fields in the brain after an impact. CREDIT KurtLab"In injury cases, the brain’s motion is more complex," said Kurt. "Instead of the brain moving largely in unison, the corpus callosum shakes more rapidly than the surrounding areas, placing significant strain on those tissues, which might be one of the biomechanical reasons of concussions." The corpus callosum, Kurt explained, is a band of nerve fibers joining the brain’s two hemispheres.
Although the results are consistent with empirical observations–patients with concussions do often show signs of damage in the corpus callosum–Kurt emphasized that the findings are predictions that need to be tested in the lab, either with animal or human brains that have been donated for research.
Kurt and colleagues also found that due to the mechanical complexity of the brain, there is no straightforward relationship between different bumps, spins and blows to the head and the likelihood of injury. They said that it will be important to better understand the relationship between head impacts and the motion of the brain, that is what kinds of impacts give rise to the complex motion that appears to be responsible for concussions and other mild traumatic brain injuries.
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