A New Way to Detect Traumatic Brain Injury

Helmet polymer changes color on impact to signal head injury

Helmets can reduce the risk of serious head injuries, but soon they may also be able to detect them.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania have created a polymer that changes color depending on how hard it is hit. Incorporated into a helmet, a patch of this polymer might be able to alert the wearer or observers of a brain injury.

"If the force was large enough, and you could easily tell that, then you could immediately seek medical attention," said lead study author Shu Yang, PhD, a chemical biologist at the University of Pennsylvania, in a press release.

A brain injury can occur from many types of head trauma, such as bomb blasts, football tackles and vehicle accidents.

Brain injures don't always have obvious signs, such as bleeding or unconsciousness, however.

Because of this, patients may unknowingly continue their activities and potentially make their injuries worse. If patients or observers knew an injury had occurred, they may seek medical attention sooner.

Repeated brain injuries can increase the risk of permanent brain damage and long-term complications such as memory problems, headaches and dementia.

Dr. Yang and team created crystals that contain structures that give them a particular color.

When the crystals are damaged by a blow or other force, they become deformed and change in color.

The team is currently working on ways to decrease the cost of the materials and make this polymer commercially available for protective headgear.

This study was presented Aug. 16 at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

The Berkman Opportunity Fund funded this research.