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New safety helmet technology to save hundreds of lives

November 20, 2009

New safety helmet technology to save hundreds of lives

A patented brain-cooling device for crash helmets has been developed at Sussex University’s Innovation Centre. Known as ThermaHelm, it performs like an instant ice pack when activated by sudden impact, in doing so reducing brain swelling and the risk of long-term brain damage. It also extends the critical window that paramedics and Accident & Emergency teams have to perform their life-saving skills. Its developers believe that it could save hundreds of lives in the UK each year.

Latest UK Department for Transport figures (2008) show that over 28,000 motorcycle accidents resulted in around 5,500 serious injuries and 500 fatalities in the UK alone. Of these, many involved Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that could have been mitigated by the ThermaHelm brain-cooling device.

The prototype is now undergoing trials and, upon their successful completion, is expected to go into full-time production by May 2010.

Two lightweight and non-toxic chemical packs are integrated into the helmet lining, and contain multiple trigger points to allow the chemicals to mix and initiate the endothermic (cold) reaction. One chemical pack contains water, the other ammonium nitrate. A sudden impact will cause a membrane to break, allowing the water to mix into the ammonium nitrate. The endothermic reaction is immediate and cools the brain through small veins in the scalp called emissary capillaries. As the reaction is progressive, heat from the head will be continually absorbed. The cooling process lasts approximately 30-45 minutes and will maintain stable brain temperatures during this time. A hot and expanded brain flattens the blood ways, starving the brain tissue of vital oxygen. If the brain’s temperature can be stabilized, however, the accident victim is much more likely to avoid Traumatic Brain Injury and so the chances of survival are increased.

The ThermaHelm brain-cooling device can be integrated into the manufacture of most standard motorcycle helmets. It is likely to add approximately £150 (US$250) to the overall price tag. Research is ongoing to see if it is feasible to retrospectively fit the technology into existing helmets.

20 November 2009

Left: It has long been recognized that neurological deterioration in trauma victims is dramatically reduced when a hypothermic state is induced

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