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This Bioengineer Knows What Really Happens During a Concussion

October 12, 2016
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According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), a concussion is when your brain lags behind the head, and smashes back and forth into the skull. Bioengineer and former football player David Camarillo is challenging that definition. “The word concussion evokes a fear these days more so than it ever has, and I know this personally,” said Camarillo, “I played 10 years of football, [and] was struck in the head thousands of times.” Camarillo, an assistant professor at Stanford University, focuses his work on the understanding and prevention of brain injuries like concussions. His main objection to the CDC’s definition has to do with the brain’s movement. In the cranial vault, there is little to no room for the brain to move violently in the skull. So if the damage is not occurring in the outer part of the brain, where does the concussion happen? Camarillo may have found the answer. In his recent study, Camarillo gave Stanford football players mouth guards with sensors to measure how an athlete’s skull moves during a concussion. He discovered that concussions are more likely to happen when hit in a left-to-right motion, rather than a front-to-back movement shown by the CDC. Additionally, the brain isn’t bashing into the skull repeatedly, the tissue is stretching up to 50 percent more than its original length. This stretch of the tissue allows the hit's force to strike the bottom center of your brain, also known as the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum is a fibrous tissue that connects the left and right sides of the brain together. “We think that this might be one of the most common mechanisms of concussion,” said Camarillo, “As the forces move down, they strike the corpus callosum, [and] it causes a dissociation between your right and your left brain… [it] could explain some of the symptoms of concussion.” Camarillo then compared images of an ex-professional football player’s brain to a normal scan, and found that the corpus callosum had significantly shriveled up in the player’s brain. But how can athletes prevent the tissue from being struck? “What we think is that if we can slow the head down just enough so that the brain does not lag behind the skull but instead it moves in synchrony with the skull, then we might be able to prevent this mechanism of concussion,” he added. In the meantime, Camarillo hopes that current regulations mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) are changed. Current tests only measure for a skull fracture risk alone. While football helmets aren’t tested by the CPSC, the guidelines are the same. Camarillo admits that while current research and tests have helped save lives, it is still not sufficient. “I get this question all the time from parents, and they ask me, ‘Would you let your own child play football?’ Or, ‘Should I let my child play soccer?’ And I think that as a field, we’re a long way from giving an answer with any kind of confidence there.” Hear more about Camarillo’s study in his April 2016 TED Talk: [embed][/embed]
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