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Concussion Research & Spine Robotics Testing

Intelligent MEMS Mouthguard Research

Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Concussion Mangement

Cleveland Clinic’s Spine Research Laboratory (SRL) at Lutheran Hospital, a Cleveland Clinic hospital, is dedicated to improving quality of life for people through research, innovation and education. The SRL has recently developed a wireless MEMS-based intelligent mouthguard, which measures in-game head impact dynamics for contact sports, such as football and boxing.

The Intelligent Mouthguard contains MEMS linear and angular sensors, and using Bluetooth technology, data is transmitted wirelessly to a computer on the sideline or ringside to measure head orientation, position, velocity and acceleration of the impact. The transmitted data is used to measure real-time and post-competition neurologic outcomes and assist with the rapid diagnosis of injury to athletic trainers and physicians.

It is anticipated that the Intelligent MEMS Mouthguard will supply statistics to assist in the design of safer helmets and equipment in order to decrease the number of traumatic brain injuries in athletes of all ages.

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'Bender', the Spine Research Laboratory's (SRL) robotic biomechanics tester.

Cutting-edge robotic tests to study spine biomechanics — also called “robo-mechanics” — represent the next frontier in spine research. Cleveland Clinic Spine Research Laboratory (SRL) has completed its first spine robo-mechanics studies with “Bender,” an in-house spine-testing robot.

While traditional spine research test protocols have been limited to use of cables and pulleys to bend the spine (quasi-static test) and simplistic push-pull or twist tests to measure the response of passive spine structures (bones, ligaments, discs) only, Bender allows SRL to conduct six-degree-of-freedom, in vitro spine testing in any conceivable orientation, position or load.

These tests allow for precise characterization of the intact, injured and stabilized spine while providing groundbreaking insights into the theoretical muscular and neural responses of the in vivo spine.

Spins at 615 Degrees per Second

Robots like Bender have a long history in industrial settings such as automotive assembly and precision welding and painting, as well as in modern amusement park rides and movies. Robots are still regarded as novelties in medical research. At the SRL in Cleveland Clinic’s Lutheran Hospital, Bender elevates existing spine research capabilities.

The robot allows SRL researchers as well as Center for Spine Health and Department of Neurosurgery staff, fellows and residents to add measurements of active (muscle) and neural (central nervous system) spine responses to the traditionally measured passive spine responses.

To facilitate these measurements, Bender can manipulate a spine with 0.1 mm accuracy — the thickness of a human hair — and loads as light as a few grams.

Running at full capacity, Bender can move 16 kilograms (35 pounds) at speeds up to 14 feet per second and twist or spin up to 615 degrees per second. Additionally, SRL’s robo-mechanics testing is enhanced through use of a technically advanced Optotrak Certus three-dimensional infrared motion tracking system.

For more information on the Spine Research Laboratory’s robo-mechanical studies, contact Program Manager Brian Perse at 216.363.5741.

Adam Bartsch, PhD
Adam Bartsch Spine Research

Dr. Bartsch is a traumatic neuromechanics engineer specializing in the study of head, neck and spine injuries caused by trauma or force. Since 2001 -- when, as a graduate student he became involved in Department of Transportation-sponsored projects to protect occupants in motor vehicle crashes -- Dr. Bartsch has studied mechanisms by which people sustain injury and how to design countermeasures to reduce injury risk.

During his Doctoral training at Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University, Dr. Bartsch narrowed his focus to head, neck and spine injuries involved in athletics. He now oversees research projects that aim to reduce the risk of concussion, neck injury and spine injury for children participating in contact sports. Current decades-old protective equipment standards treat children as just being smaller adults and do not include specific provisions to measure protective parameters related to a child’s risk of head, neck and spine injury, given their weaker neck muscles and developing brains.

As a means to advance these standards, Dr. Bartsch is a co-inventor of the Intelligent Mouthguard, a wireless MEMS-based device that measures in game head impact dynamics for contact sports. The Intelligent Mouthguard contains MEMS linear and angular sensors and uses Bluetooth technology to wirelessly transmit data on head orientation, position, velocity and acceleration of the impact. The data can then be used to measure real-time and post-competition neurologic outcomes and assist with the rapid diagnosis of injury. The Intelligent Mouthguard can also supply statistics to assist in the design of safer helmets and equipment in order to decrease the number of traumatic brain injuries in athletes of all ages.

In 2011, Dr. Bartsch received a grant from the National Football League (NFL) Charities to study the effect that children’s necks may have on their concussion risk. This study is intended to assist in development of helmet-design criteria specifically for children and may assist in development of concussion- and neck-injury criteria for children participating in sports.