Improving child safety in cars? Bone research may hold answer

Computer simulated models to test infant bone strength could help manufacturers design safer car seats.

The protection of children from injury or death in vehicle collisions has improved since the introduction of child safety seats. Yet, such accidents are still a leading cause of life-threatening injury in children. Engineers have been using computer-aided design in vehicle development that incorporates safety assessment based on simulations. However, evaluations of car seats in crash tests often involve scaled-down models of adults to simulate children whose bones are not yet fully formed.

To address this issue and provide more accurate, evidence-based information, a team of researchers examined infants’ bone strength in relation to age and weight. To achieve this, they used computer simulated models and medical imaging. Their research is expected to enable companies to better design and test children’s safety products such as car seats and prams before introducing them to the market.

The findings, which were published in the ‘Biomechanics and Modeling in Mechanobiology’ journal, will also help clinical diagnoses of bone injuries by determining whether they are accidental or inflicted.

The study, partly funded by an EU research grant through the CompBioMed project, used CT scans and computer models to examine how a different amount of force affects the bones. The tests involved the bending and twisting of bones to detect their breaking point. CT scans refer to cross-sectional, three-dimensional images of an internal body part produced by X-rays and a computer.

As the research team explained in a recent press release, “these non-invasive techniques created 3D models of the femur (thigh bone) in the study of children’s bones in the new-born to three-year-old age range. This is the age range that has had the least research conducted previously but also the ages where children can’t talk or communicate effectively about how their injury occurred.”

The researchers were able to determine how bones developed and how their strength changed during this time when there’s also rapid growth. The team hopes to build on the current research to assess other long bones, such as the tibia. It will also expand its database to ensure a good representation of children in each age range and look at more complex injury scenarios. In their journal article, the researchers concluded: “In future, this technique will allow us to create surrogate models for infants and very young children, as well as obtaining more quantitative information about bone growth and strength to drastically enhance the little information currently available in the literature.”

The potential applicability of this research to various biomechanical analyses of paediatric bones is also in line with the aims of CompBioMed (A Centre of Excellence in Computational Biomedicine). The project was set up to advance the role of computationally based modelling and simulation within biomedicine. The application of these techniques will help academic, industrial and clinical researchers better analyse three areas: cardiovascular, molecularly-based and neuro-musculoskeletal medicine. Ultimately, CompBioMed offers the prospect of predicting the effect of personalised medical treatments and interventions before they’re carried out.

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CompBioMed project

last modification: 2018-04-19

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