Helmet decals developed at SFU Surrey are hitting back at concussions

Researchers at Surrey’s Simon Fraser University develop technology they say is a game-changer when it comes to preventing head injuries

SFU researcher Dr. Daniel Abram applies Brainshield decals to the Hansworth Secondary high school football team’s helmets in North Vancouver. Dr. Abram says the decals help prevent concussions among players.

SURREY — What better way to use your brain than to help other people protect theirs?

Researchers at Surrey’s Simon Fraser University campus, inspired by parents’ concern about the wellbeing of their children while playing contact sports, have developed a decal they say is a game-changer in the prevention of concussion injuries.

Six years in the making, Brainshield is billed as the “world’s first impact diverting decal.”

Applied to the outside of any sports helmet, be it hockey, football, a motorcycle helmet or whatever, the four-layer sticker made of trade-secret materials instantly reduces gripping friction at the point of impact by allowing the helmet to glide, rather than grip and forcefully pull the player’s head.

The creators of this technology note that most helmets don’t compensate for violent twisting that happens in angled impacts. Research shows sharp twisting causing high rotational acceleration of the brain following a hit is a key factor leading to the possibility of a concussion injury.

“In a collision situation, safety helmets nearly always contact the ground or other object barriers at an angle, causing both compression and swift rotation of the head,” said Dr. Daniel Abram, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Mechatronics Systems Engineering (MSE).

“While research studies show that the brain tissues are considerably more sensitive to rotation than compression, the majority of helmets are only designed to protect the head against compression of the brain.”

The project was led by Abram, with MSE Director Farid Golnarghi and professor Gary Wang.

The decal was tested at SFU’s Head Injury Prevention Lab in Whalley and high school football teams using them have reported no concussions whereas previously they recorded two or three each year.

In 2014, Brainshield was tested on the helmets of SFU’s football team and concussions reported during the season dropped to four from 14 in the year prior.

“It’s like a seatbelt,” Abram explained. “Having Brainshield makes a big difference. It does not allow full force to be applied to the helmet. It can improve helmet performance.”

Abram is the chief technology and operating officer at Shield-X Technology Inc., which was established to develop and manufacture the decals. Teams can buy them for $23.99 per pair through shieldxtech.com. They come in several shapes: teardrop, paw, curve, bow tie and hexagons.

The inventors are now working with a major helmet maker in the United States towards hopefully seeing the decals built into its products.

Currently, three B.C. high schools are making use of about 150 decals and Abram expects that number will grow.

“We are hoping to have more teams on board,” he said.

Concussions, by the numbers

  • According to the Sports Concussion Institute, five to 10 per cent of athletes will suffer a concussion during any given sports season and football poses the greatest risk for males, with a 75 per cent chance for concussion.
  • Soccer, on the other hand, presents the greatest concussion risk for females (50 per cent chance for concussion).
  • Seventy-eight per cent of concussions happen during games, as opposed to practices, and studies have shown females are twice as likely to sustain a concussion.
  • The Sports Concussion Institute says a professional football player will take 900 to 1,500 hits to the head during a season.

tom.zytaruk@thenownewspaper.com

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