Mitigating the effects of mild-traumatic brain injury through biomimicry
CLIENT: Q30 Innovations
INDUSTRY: Sports, Medical
SERVICES: Research, Strategy, Design, Engineering, Prototyping, Soft Goods
The Q-Collar is the world’s first technology to use the body’s natural physiology to protect against mild traumatic brain injury caused by concussive events. A revolutionary approach to protecting the brain, the Q-Collar addresses the problem from the inside out by mimicking a natural defense used by woodpeckers. The collar applies slight pressure to the neck which mildly increases blood volume in the brain to create a cushion that reduces movement of the brain inside the skull.
Initial research on the collar has shown significant reduction in changes to the brain caused by concussive impacts. The Q-Collar is a breakthrough for athletics, military and industry. Priority Designs was proud to aid in the development and commercialization of this revolutionary product.
An Unsolved Problem
A NEW APPROACH
3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the U.S. each year, but all previous methods to prevent damage from concussive blows have sought to reduce the force of impact to the head by means of stronger helmets, thicker padding, and energy absorption. The Q-Collar is the first solution to address the issue of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) in the brain where the damage takes place – inside the skull.
When the head experiences an impact of extreme force, “slosh” is the movement of the brain as it is floating in the cerebrospinal fluid inside the skull. As the brain sloshes inside the skull it can rotate or strike the walls of the cranium, often tearing brain fibers resulting in mTBI. An extreme force to the brain can result in concussion, but smaller, repeated impacts can lead to chronic traumatic encepelathopy (CTE) which is a form of brain damage resulting in dementia.
PROTECTING THE BRAIN FROM THE INSIDE OUT
How can woodpeckers hit their heads 80 million times over a lifetime without suffering from concussion? Dr. David Smith, a chemist, physicist, and ideator, discovered that woodpeckers activate the omohyoid muscle to apply pressure on the jugular vein, causing a slight increase in blood volume in the brain. This provoked a question; could a similar idea be applied to humans, using the body’s own physiology to provide natural concussion prevention?
TESTING THE THEORY
Working with Dr. Julian Bailes, a prominent neurosurgeon and consultant to the NFL Players’ Association, jugular compression was tested on mice in comparison to a control group. No previous method of protection has been able to show more than 5% reduction in evidence of brain damage, but jugular compression showed an astonishing 83% reduction. The team of inventors, neurosurgeons, researchers, engineers, and designers set out to develop a device for humans that could replicate the action of the woodpecker’s omohyoid with jugular compression.
"No previous method of protection has been able to show more than 5% reduction in evidence of brain damage, but jugular compression showed an astonishing 83% reduction."
The path to development of an FDA registered medical device posed several challenges that had to be addressed. The team set out to tackle each of these challenges throughout seven years of development and testing:
measuring jugular compression & verifying safety
proving efficacy during performance
developing an appropriate device for users
A New Device to Apply Pressure
DESIGNING AN IDEA
With an idea and the promise of jugular compression’s potential to reduce mTBI, designers began to sketch forms that would bring the concept to a product for commercial manufacturing. With no precedence or existing products for this solution, the team began by brainstorming and exploring countless possibilities. Designs were careful to reduce or eliminate pressure on the trachea as not to interfere with breathing. The solution was a c-shaped collar with a curved profile to keep the device low on the neck. This form would apply pressure in the appropriate location while providing comfort and preventing movement of the collar.
"No precedence or existing products for this solution; a true realization of a new invention."
ITERATIVE PROTOTYPING FOR FASTER DEVELOPMENT
From initial concepts, prototypes were developed for quick evaluation. Hundreds of prototypes were fabricated in house by CNC machining, casting, laser cutting, soft goods development, and 3D printing. Some models were for proof-of-concept, others were appearance prototypes and eventually functional prototypes were developed for testing. Materials were carefully selected for comfort and durability in extreme conditions of hot or cold.
"Hundreds of prototypes were fabricated in-house alongside designers and engineers for faster experimentation and continuous refinement."
A WINNING TEAM
Collaboration with designers, engineers and in-house prototyping led to faster experimentation and continuous refinement. Form, material, aesthetics and method of applied pressure were tested and improved quickly, saving time and moving efficiently. With collaboration from Q30 Innovations and Dr. Dave Smith, what started as “how?” transformed into a real product solution that was ready for testing and validation.
"What started as “how?” transformed into a real product solution."
Verifying Safe Jugular Compression
MEASURING THE EFFECT
There were several important questions that needed to be answered for verifying application on humans. How much pressure was needed, and how will we verify volumetric changes or changes in brain elasticity? Dr. Dave Smith of Cincinnati Children’s Medical Center helped perform research and establish test methods for verification of the effect of jugular compression on humans. Ultimately, ultrasounds were used to verify jugular restriction and MRIs confirmed brain blood volume and elasticity. These tests established that early prototypes accurately replicated the jugular compression of the omohyoid muscle found in woodpeckers.
Could the device be used safely by humans without any adverse health or performance issues? A variety of rigorous safety and performance tests performed at multiple institutes demonstrated no negative effect on performance, effort, or response time, and no changes to brain function or chemistry.
"Safety and performance testing demonstrated no negative effects on performance, effort or response time."
Proving Efficacy During Performance
REAL ATHLETES, REAL HITS, REAL RESULTS
With safety of the device established, Priority Designs and Q30 Innovations teamed up with Dr. Grey Meyer, research scientist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to pursue efficacy testing with high school athletes. Football, hockey and women’s soccer players wore the Q-Collar and were monitored in comparison to a control group.
SIGNIFICANT REDUCTION IN CHANGES TO THE BRAIN
Data revealed that athletes who wore the collar received similar quantities and intensities of hits as the control group throughout the course of a single season. After confirming equivalent inputs of impact, researchers conducted brain scans to reveal evidence of mTBI by examining white matter in the brain. Athletes who wore the Q-Collar throughout a single season have shown a significant reduction in changes to the brain.
An Appropriate Device for All Users
What was hypothesized in studying the woodpecker was realized and verified with use of the Q-Collar. The collar applies a prescribed amount of pressure to the jugular, which increases the volume of blood in the skull to create a cushion for the brain. By using the body’s own natural physiology, we can reduce brain slosh, and mitigate the negative impact of repetitive concussive blows to the head.
The Q-Collar’s sporty, approachable design gives the user confidence with the acceptance of familiar protective sports equipment. It can be worn for an entire game, or taken off quickly between play. The user simply places it around the neck and in seconds, the device is working.
Made from silicone urethane elastomer with a rigorously engineered force-providing insert, the Q-Collar is highly durable. With constant contact with the skin, outer material was optimized for comfort in the contoured shape, material durometer, and texture. It’s weather resistant for very warm or very cold temperatures, waterproof and easily washable.
Similar to the familiarity of buying shoes, the collar is available in nine sizes designed in one inch increments to comfortably fit each user. The Q-Collar is accessible to all ages, level of performance, and can be used during any high-risk activity from children through professionals.
Priority Designs has worked closely with Q30 Innovations to transfer the device to manufacturing for commercialization. The Q-Collar is currently in production with a Canadian launch for late 2017 as it undergoes FDA review in the U.S. But the application of the Q-Collar doesn’t stop with athletics. Military and high-risk industries have significant application for wearing the collar in their daily jobs for safety and peace of mind.
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