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Grant will Fund MSU and UK Research to Advance Understanding of Infant Head Trauma

March 15, 2017

Mississippi State University and Cardiff University researchers collaborate at MSU's Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems. Pictured, from left to right, are MSU doctoral student Hamed Bakhtiary, CAVS student worker Jonny Miller, MSU Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Raj Prabhu, Cardiff University Senior Lecturer Mike Jones and CAVS Research Engineer III Wilburn Whittington.
(Submitted photo)
A research collaboration between Mississippi State University and Cardiff University in the United Kingdom aims to increase understanding of infant head trauma.

Using funds from an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant, researchers from both institutions will continue working to create highly-detailed 3-D and computational models of the infant brain, which will advance forensic analysis and safety research related to infant head trauma.

"We're trying to get as close as possible to reality," said Raj Prabhu, MSU assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering. "This is the first modeling research attempt that combines the best of experimentation and the best of computational modeling."

Infant head trauma is one of the leading causes of death in young children, but there is not enough biomechanical data available to gain a full understanding of injuries to specific areas of the brain, according to Prabhu. With a better understanding of the infant brain, scientists and companies can design products that are more effective in protecting infants during harmful situations, such as car crashes.

The research team from MSU and Cardiff received approximately $400,000 over four years in grant funds. Wilburn Whittington, Research Engineer III at MSU's Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, (Click here for more information about this research conducted at CAVS and see page 8, "Research that Demystifies the Controversial Topic of Shaken Baby Syndrome.") has conducted research at MSU on the impact of intermediate loading rates, which has informed the research of Prabhu and his colleagues.

In addition to informing research that will improve infant safety measures, the team's work could also improve the investigation of infant deaths from head trauma. Mike Jones, senior lecturer in Cardiff University's School of Engineering and Barrister-at-Law, has spent over a decade examining infant head trauma cases and testifying in U.K. courts of law as a forensic pathologist. He said he is hoping this research will provide clearer data for use in criminal investigations.

"I'm hoping the research will provide mechanisms as to identifying fractures and evidence as to where a brain injury is more likely to occur given a certain scenario," Jones said. "This allows for a differential diagnosis between the clinical picture and the cause. That's where we're hoping to go with the study."

Jones was introduced to researchers from MSU's Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems through the efforts of MSU Vice President for Research and Economic Development David Shaw and Roger King, executive director of MSU's Institute for Computational Research in Engineering and Science.  Jones eventually made multiple trips to Mississippi to discuss collaboration possibilities. He said MSU's computational ability, coupled with the university's ongoing traumatic brain injury research, proved to be a quality fit for his research interests.

"It's almost as if it was meant to be," Jones said. "Mississippi State had the exact suite of skills I need to do the work."

A key component of the research will be producing an accurate brain model that incorporates cerebrospinal fluid moving through the brain, building upon previous research that created a validated head and skull model. Allan Mason Jones, a senior engineering lecturer at Cardiff, is working on fluid-structure interaction modeling for the project.

Prabhu, who received his doctorate from MSU in 2011 while studying traumatic brain injury at blast loads, said the models could lead to a better understanding of brain injuries and accelerate analysis of the infant brain.

"Let's say you have 200 different types of injury situations based on velocity, impact, height, etc.," Prabhu said. "To run all those tests may take close to 200 tests. If you implement the computer model, using a method to sample just a few points, once you have these different answers, you can interpolate any injury scenario. So instead of doing 200 tests, you only need 20 tests."

For more on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, visit https://www.epsrc.ac.uk/. More on MSU's Bagley College of Engineering can be found at www.bagley.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi's leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.