Biomedical Engineers Facing the Brain

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Biomedical engineering is a very broad field which means that they do not work in only one particular area of the medical or engineering field. The main focus of biomedical engineering is to improve health and healthcare through technology and engineering. The area of biomedical engineering and health that currently has a problem is different brain injuries that sports players face. There are current day solutions to solve these brain injury problems but they are not the best solutions. My idea to rid chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and other brain injuries is to create a gel or foam-like substance that can surround, protect, and reduce the impact felt on the human brain during a head-on collision.

Some people do not know what chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE is but Michelle Taylor, a journalist from Laboratory Equipment, defines CTE as “a type of traumatic brain injury associated with repeated blows to the head. The progressive degenerative disease can be spurred on by symptomatic concussions as well as sub-concussive hits to the head that do not cause immediate symptoms” (2).

The signs associated with CTE are not easy to identify which makes it difficult when trying to distinguish what the disease is that a person may have. Depression and memory loss, similar to early Alzheimer’s, are two signs of CTE but typically by the time someone is aware of it, it is too late because that person has already passed due to all of the different problems they were facing.

Since CTE is caused by repeated blows to the head, a person may think that only football players develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy because there is much contact while playing or practicing due to tackling. Truth be told, there are other sports with just as much or no contact at all such as hockey, baseball, and softball that can develop CTE over time or have traumatic brain injuries occur.

Some of the most known athletes that develop symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy are football players. Considering that football is a sport with very much contact, it is inevitable that there are a great number of brain injuries. A study in 2013 of former National Football League (NFL) players showed “the PET scans revealed the former athletes had higher levels of FDDNP in the amygdala and subcortical regions of the brain, which are areas that control learning, memory, behavior, emotions and other mental and physical functions” (Taylor 18). All of these areas of the brain being affected caused the symptoms of early Alzheimer’s and depression which are connected to CTE. For some, it may not even cross their minds that their loved ones are being affected by something as serious as chronic traumatic encephalopathy but sadly they are and it usually leads to suicide. A current technology that can help reduce the impact felt by the brain is a helmet by VICIS that acts as a pillow when facing a collision.

When interviewing Dr. Smith Callahan, a biomedical engineer from the University of Texas Health Department, and asking her opinion about what should be done to redesign helmets for football players her response was the following: “This is a really hard design problem. Think of your players head like an egg. You have to design the protective equipment so the yolk does not move in the shell, but that is difficult to non-invasively observe.

At the same time, you cannot restrict visibility or movement. In the end, the solution will probably be crumple zone technology from cars. Before crumple zones were developed, cars would be fine after a crash, but the people inside were dead because they were thrown back and forth, kind of like a brain in the skull when a hit happens. Protective gear, like a crumple zone, would redirect the force around the skull and neck instead of through it.

However, that makes the protective gear a one time use, which is cost prohibitive for youth sports. We need to figure out how to make these types of materials cheaper so a one time use helmet/guard is affordable for pee wee football teams, etc. However, we should probably also alter the rules to reduce contacts.” A company from Seattle called VISICS has recently created a new football helmet called the ZERO1 to better protect the head and brain from injury. “Traditional football helmets typically have a hard outer shell with foam padding on the inside, sort of like an M&M.

By contrast, the ZERO1 helmet has an outer LODE shell that is “deformable” as well as an inner layer of columnar structures designed to absorb the force of impact” (Lee 7). Instead of trying to make a helmet that is practically a brick wall or could only be used once, it is similar to a pillow so it can soften the contact that is made. The main problem with getting this specific type of helmet to every football player in America is the cost. One of these VISICS helmets cost between 900 and 1000 dollars which is much more expensive then what football players currently use. Since it is too expensive to provide every player with this helmet, there must be another current day solution that can help.

Over the past few years, the National Football League has cracked down on players and developed the “targeting” rule. This rule has helped reduce the number of brain injuries and means if a player seems to be intentionally making head to head contact with another player then they will cause their team to have a fifteen-yard penalty and could eventually get fined. Football is not the only sport that has changed the standards of equipment to prevent brain injuries. Baseball and softball have as well.

Between 2000 and 2016 there were a total of twenty-nine articles published that stated somebody had faced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) due to baseball or softball. “The most common mechanism of injury was being struck by bat for younger players and being struck by [the] ball for older athletes (adolescent and beyond)” (Cusimano, Zhu 4). This seems reasonable for younger children because when kids are just starting to learn how to play they are completely unaware and will swing the bat without checking their surroundings.

For older players, it is that they are hit with a ball that causes a TBI which could just possibly be because of a wild pitch due to the pitcher or it could be the ball coming off the bat too quickly after they hit which is too fast for the fielder to catch. Of these twenty-nine articles, it was concluded that “females were on average 2.04 times more likely to sustain a TBI than males” (Cusimano, Zhu 4). This could be true because of how much of a faster pace softball is played at and because a softball is much larger than a baseball.

Also, softball pitchers do not throw nearly as hard as baseball pitchers but the field is much smaller which means the infielders play further up, giving them less reaction time to a ball coming straight at their head. Considering all of these facts, it can be concluded that the brain injuries that players face are not from making direct contact with another player but from the lack of safety awareness and protective equipment. There is much that can be done to better protect the head and brain from traumatic brain injuries in baseball and softball.

Today, there are face masks that players can wear on the field to protect from injury but they are not a requirement. Most softball players choose not to wear them and in baseball, it is never seen. The chances of a pitcher getting hit in the face by a ball are not extremely high but it only takes one hit for them to potentially have their lives changed forever. Some choices for adult baseball and softball players to help prevent brain injuries are for players to wear protective face masks while on the field like those made by Rawlings. For younger players, coaches need to be watching the kids at all times to make sure that they all have helmets on when they are going to be up to bat and when they start swinging there is not another child nearby that can get hit. One sport that is not often thought about depending on what region a person lives in but has a high amount of brain injuries occur in it is hockey.

Similar to football, hockey is a sport with very much contact not only because players ram into each other but also because they are pushed up against the walls with full force. “However the incidence of concussions in the NHL (National Hockey League) has steadily risen from 2009 until the present. There have been seven NHL fighters/enforcers (players whose role on the ice is to fight or body check, not to score goals) who have passed away since 2009 and have donated their brains to science to be studied for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and other concussive disorders” (Neal 2). If there are fighters in hockey whose role is merely to body check opposing players then there must be some type of rule that can help with the safety of both players, not only the player getting rammed into.

“Rule 48 of the NHL, which was established to eliminate body checks (or hits) that target the head, was implemented during the 2010-2011 season” (Neal 2). This rule simply means if a player targets another player but the main point of contact is the head, they can result in game suspension. At first glance, it can be difficult to determine if the main contact point is the head but if it is reviewed and the head appears to snap in a different direction from the rest of the body it is considered an illegal hit. Biomedical engineers could also create new gear for hockey players that prevents the head and neck from making movements that are too quick and painful. What occurs when a person receives a brain injury like a concussion is fairly simple to explain and understand when a person has a general understanding of physics.

Newton’s First Law of Physics that an object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by another force helps explain what happens when somebody faces a concussion. The idea is if a person is running forward and happens to run into another player like in football when they tackle, the brain will keep moving forward because it is not compressed tightly inside the skull. Now, one may be thinking “why would someone ever want the brain to be compressed tightly inside the skull?” This idea can be compared to the brain of a woodpecker’s and is the inspiration behind my idea of creating a gel or foam-like substance to surround the brain and help reduce the impact felt.

A woodpecker hits its head numerous times throughout the day but it has been scientifically proven that they do not receive concussions or other traumatic brain injuries. Engelking states in his article for Discover that “they have huge tongues that secure and cushion the brain during impact, and they have specialized skull bones that serve as internal shock absorbers” (8). Clearly, woodpeckers are naturally made to be able to prevent brain injuries but humans are not. The human brain sits loosely in the skull surrounded by cerebellum fluid unlike a woodpecker’s which can prevent itself from receiving a concussion due to its incredibly large tongue that wraps around its brain that is smaller than its eyes. As human beings, we do not have large enough tongues to wrap around our brains so I have come up with an idea to help resolve this issue and eventually CTE.

My idea is to create a gel or foam-like substance that can be distributed around the human brain to keep the brain in a more compact state so it does not move forward during head impact. The substance cannot be too thick that it puts pressure on the brain because that could be life-threatening but if it is also too loose or light then it does not change the fact that the brain will keep moving forward when making head to head contact. The neurological aspect of wrapping something around the brain would not be damaged because the neurons travel inside the brain and not in the cerebellum fluid that is around it. Solving which chemical mix is safe for the brain so there is not a bad reaction that could lead to some type of infection is a difficult task but not an impossible one. Humans will be uneasy to try something that nobody has ever done before so there needs to be trials done.

Once the chemical mix is perfected, testing on small subjects such as mice and lizards then slowly moving up to larger animals such as monkeys is where I will begin before going forward to test on humans. The chemical mix would be one that would dissolve after a set amount of time on the test subjects and if it shows to be beneficial to actually preventing brain injuries then it would be something that would have to be reapplied numerous times. If it finally seems to have greatly reduced brain injuries after all the trials that have been ran then it would be a person’s choice to continue using the product and having it get reapplied. My plan is to try it on sports players first and then if other people would like it, they could pay for the surgery to get done. There are many components to this idea that must be solved and another one is how the substance will be put around the brain.

If one were to try and stick a needle through the skin and skull it would not only fail, it would be very painful. To accomplish this idea of getting the substance to the human brain I would like to use nanotechnology. “Nanoscience and nanotechnology are the study and application of extremely small things and can be used across all the other science fields, such as chemistry, biology, physics, materials science, and engineering. It’s hard to imagine just how small nanotechnology is. One nanometer is a billionth of a meter, or 10-9 of a meter. Here are a few illustrative examples: There are 25,400,000 nanometers in an inch. A sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometers thick” (Nano 1 and 3).

Nanotechnology is very tiny which would not be painful if it went inside of a human and made its way to the brain to disperse the substance. This idea is very complex and will be very costly. Funding for this project would come through school and other organizations such as the Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation and the Concussion Legacy Foundation whose goal is primarily to prevent and hopefully rid CTE. This invention could help prevent CTE in sports players because the brain would have something that resembles padding around it.

In conclusion, current day solutions may solve the problem of brain injuries for a short time but it would not solve them forever. The idea of having some type of substance directly around the brain to act as a pillow to prevent how much the brain moves and reduce the impact felt could change how scientists look at the human brain forever. This gel or foam-like chemical could completely rid chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and other brain injuries forever.

Cite this paper

Biomedical Engineers Facing the Brain. (2021, May 13). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/biomedical-engineers-facing-the-brain/



How stressful is biomedical engineering?
In fact, Time listed biomedical engineer as one of the highest-paying, lowest-stress careers in 2015 .
What is the most important issue biomedical engineering is facing?
The most important issue biomedical engineering is facing is the need for more qualified engineers. There is a growing demand for biomedical engineers, but the supply is not keeping up. This shortage could have a major impact on the advancement of medical technology.
What personality traits do biomedical engineers have?
biomedical engineers are often analytical and creative. they are also often good at problem solving and working with teams.
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