Coats and Spear receive $591K grant from U.S. DOJ to study skull fracture

Profs. Brittany Coats (PI) and Ashley Spear, along with collaborator Prof. Susan Margulies from the skull_fracture_image1.jpgUniversity of Pennsylvania, have received a $591K grant from the U.S. Dept. of Justice for infant skull fracture research.  The three-year award, titled “Skull fracture patterns from head impact in infants”, will develop and validate a computational toolset for predicting skull fracture patterns in infants.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that approximately 686,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect during 2012. The highest percentage of these children are between birth and 3 years of age, and are more likely to experience a recurrence of maltreatment if the abuse is not identified. To confound matters, accidental falls are the leading causes of non-fatal injury in infants less than one year old and also the most common explanation given by caretakers suspected of abuse. Thus, distinguishing a truthful history of a fall from a false one proves to be a difficult but important task for a clinician, and for the legal system. Skull fracture is a common finding for both accidental falls and abusive injuries, but it is unknown how to distinguish fracture from accidental or abusive scenarios. There is an urgent need for careful biomechanical investigations to determine characteristics of trauma that lead to specific skull fracture patterns in infants.

Fig. 1. Model predicting the initiation of skull fracture in infants from low height falls. [1]

Fig. 1. Model predicting the initiation of skull fracture in infants from low height falls. [1]

Fig. 2. Advanced fracture mechanics simulation techniques predicting crack propagation. [2]

Fig. 2. Advanced fracture mechanics simulation techniques predicting crack propagation. [2]

The purpose of this proposal is to develop and validate a computational toolset for predicting skull fracture patterns in infants. The team’s goal is to be able to use the toolset to identify skull fracture patterns from common low height accidental falls in infants, and to evaluate the effect of head impact direction, impact energy, and skull thickness on skull fracture patterns. They propose to accomplish this by first quantifying the mechanical and fracture properties of infant cranial bone. Then, the team will use this data to develop a high-fidelity computational model for predicting crack propagation and fracture patterns in infant cranial bone. The validity of the model will be evaluated against experimental fracture pattern studies, existing cadaver studies, and well-witnessed accidental falls in infants. Successful completion of these objectives will provide the medical and legal communities with empirical data and a computational toolset that can be used to improve medical and judicial accuracy in child abuse cases.

Graphical Images: Dr. Coats’ previously developed models capable of capturing locations of fracture initiation in infants from low height falls (Fig. 1). Dr. Spear’s expertise in fracture mechanics and crack propagation simulation (Fig. 2) will substantially advance the model to predict crack propagation following initiation. The infant skull is a highly heterogeneous structure, so the proposal will include anisotropic material characterization of pediatric cranial bone, microscopic evaluation of crack growth through and across trabeculae fibers, and development of an integrated computational tool set to predict infant skull fracture patterns following head impact.

References
[1] Coats, B. et al. Parametric study of head impact in the infant. Stapp Car Crash Journal, 2007. 51(Oct):p1-15
[2] Spear, A., et al., Surrogate modeling of high-fidelity fracture simulations for real-time residual strength predictions. AIAA Journal, 2011. 49(12):p2770-2782.

article originally published at http://mech.utah.edu/coats-spear-dept-justice