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Sensor Technology Aims to Hone in On Early Signs of TBI

A wireless health-monitoring system built to detect the early signs of traumatic brain injury (TBI) by continuously monitoring a range of brain and neural functions has reportedly been developed by engineering researchers at the University of Arkansas. As stated by a news release from the university, the system features a dry, textile-based nanosensor and accompanying network.

According to Vijay Varadan, PhD, Distinguished Professor of electrical engineering, “In real time, our system continuously monitors neural activity and recognizes the signs and symptoms of traumatic brain injury, such as drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue, sensitivity to light, and anxiety.”

The system is comprised of flexible sensors woven or printed into a skullcap worn under a helmet. The sensors are built with carbon nanotubes and two- and three-dimensional, textile nanostructures grown at the University of Arkansas. According to the release, the system is designed to use Zigbee/Bluetooth wireless telemetry to transmit data from the sensors to a receiver, which then transmits the data via a wireless network to a remove server or monitor, such as a computer or smartphone.  The release notes that a more powerful wide-area wireless network would allow the system to detect large quantities of data taken continuously from each player on the field and transmit the data to multiple locations—such as a press box, ambulance, or hospital.

Varadan notes in the release that the sensors have considerable power and capability to monitor sensitive neural and physiological activity. Additionally, the release reports that when under stress resulting from impact, the sensor chips are sturdier than printed circuit-board chips and can withstand high temperatures and moisture.

The system is also comprised of a pressure-sensitive textile sensor embedded underneath the helmet’s outer shell. The sensor is designed to measure intensity, direction, and location of impact force. The other sensors work as an integrated network within the skullcap; which includes a printable and flexible gyroscope engineered to measure rotational motion of the head and body balance. Additionally, the network features a printable and flexible 3-D accelerometer that measures lateral head motion and body balance.

The textile-based, dry sensors measure electrical activity in the brain, as well as signs indicating the onset of mild TBI. Loss of consciousness, drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue, anxiety, and sensitivity to light are also detected. The skullcap also features a sensor to detect pulse rate and blood oxygen level.

The release notes that a modified sensor can evaluate damage to nerve tissue resulting from force impact. The sensor records electrical signals that work together to construct a spatiotemporal image of active regions in the brain.

Varadan and researchers in his laboratory have tested the system on a small scale, the release says. The researchers aim to test the system during an actual game this fall.

Photo Credit: University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Source: University of Arkansas, Fayetteville