Numerical Simulation of Primary Blast Brain Injury

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Bass, Cameron R

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Explosions are associated with more than 80% of the casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Given the widespread use of thoracic protective armor, the most prevalent injury for combat personnel is blast-related traumatic brain injury (TBI). Almost 20% of veterans returning from duty had one or more clinically confirmed cases of TBI. In the decades of research prior to 2000, neurotrauma was under-recognized as a blast injury and the etiology and pathology of these injuries remains unclear.

This dissertation used the finite element (FE) method to address many of the biomechanics-based questions related to blast brain injuries. FE modeling is a powerful tool for studying the biomechanical response of a human or animal body to blast loading, particularly because of the many challenges related to experimental work in this field. In this dissertation, novel FE models of the human and ferret head were developed for blast and blunt impact simulation, and the ensuing response of the brain was investigated. The blast conditions simulated in this research were representative of peak overpressures and durations of real-world explosives. In general, intracranial pressures were dependent on the peak pressure of the impinging blast wave, but deviatoric responses in the brain were dependent on both peak pressure and duration. The biomechanical response of the ferret brain model was correlated with in vivo injury data from shock tube experiments. This accomplishment was the first of its kind in the blast neurotrauma field.

This dissertation made major contributions to the field of blast brain injury and to the understanding of blast neurotrauma. This research determined that blast brain injuries were brain size-dependent. For example, mouse-sized brains were predicted to have approximately 7 times larger brain tissue strains than the human-sized brains for the same blast exposure. This finding has important implications for in vivo injury model design, and a scaling model was developed to relate animal experimental models to humans via scaling blast duration by the fourth-root of the ratio of brain masses.

This research also determined that blast neurotrauma is correlated to deviatoric metrics of the brain tissue rather than dilatational metrics. In addition, strains in the blasted brain were an order-of-magnitude lower than expected to produce injury with traditional closed-head TBI, but an order-of-magnitude higher in strain rate. The 50th percentile peak principle strain metric of values of 0.6%, 1.8%, and 1.6% corresponded to the 50% risk of mild brain bleeding, moderate brain bleeding, and apnea respectively. These findings imply that the mechanical thresholds for brain tissue are strain-based for primary blast injury, and different from the thresholds associated with blunt impact or concussive brain injury because of strain rate effects.

The conclusions in this dissertation provide an important guide to the biomechanics community for studying neurotrauma using in vivo, in vitro, and in silico models. Additionally, the injury risk curves developed in this dissertation provide an injury risk metric for improving the effectiveness of personal protective equipment or evaluating neurotrauma from blast.





Panzer, Matthew Brian (2012). Numerical Simulation of Primary Blast Brain Injury. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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