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New Safety Helmet Technology to save hundreds of lives

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A brain-cooling device for crash helmets could save hundreds of lives in the UK each year.

The patented invention developed at Sussex University’s Innovation Centre, called ThermaHelm™, performs like an instant ice pack when activated by sudden impact. It reduces brain swelling and the risk of long-term brain damage and extends the critical window paramedics and Accident & Emergency teams have to perform their life-saving skills.

The advent of this innovation takes crash helmet safety to an unprecedented level and represents the biggest step-change in crash helmet advancement for over 50 years. Although the invention is at prototype stage, it has prompted significant interest from safety helmet manufacturers in Europe and Japan. It is a manufacturer-installed integration within the lining of the helmet and has no adverse impact on the overall integrity of the helmet.

The development team, led by inventor Jullian Preston-Powers and Riccardo Anzil, believes the brain-cooling device can be adapted for all activities where safety helmet use is necessary.

The technology has been praised by the Government’s UK Trade and Investment division, which has officially green-lighted the company into the Global Entrepreneurs Programme as a “Technology of Exceptional Potential.”

 Latest Department for Transport figures (2008) show that over 28,000 motorcycle accidents resulted in around 5,500 serious injuries and 500 fatalities in the Great Britain alone. Of these, many involved Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that could have been mitigated by the ThermaHelm brain cooling device. 

Jullian Preston-Powers said the concept was acknowledged by the scientific and medical communities, but never before had anybody explored how to build it into a crash helmet. He said: “It has long been recognised that neurological deterioration in trauma victims is dramatically reduced when a hypothermic state is induced. “Medical practitioners have made use of this knowledge by deliberately inducing mild hypothermia in some patients prior to emergency treatment or during surgical operations. It causes the body’s vital functions to slow down, thus reducing the chances of brain damage occurring in the patient.”

Jullian said that by taking these medical advances and applying the science to the area of Traumatic Brain Injury opened up a world of exciting new life-saving opportunities. “This is a hugely exciting innovation that has the potential to save thousands of lives around the world every year,” he said. “There has been strong interest from helmet manufacturers in Europe and Japan, and we are now working hard to turn that interest into firm licensing agreements that will give riders better fortification against long-term brain damage and death in the event of an accident.”

The prototype is now undergoing trials and, upon their successful completion, is expected to go into full-time production by May 2010. The ThermaHelm team has had strong support from UK Trade & Investment’s Global Entrepreneur Programme, which attracts some of the world’s best entrepreneurs and early stage technology companies to use the UK as their springboard to global success.

Derek Goodwin, Head of the Global Entrepreneurs Programme at UK Trade & Investment, saw the potential of the invention at an early stage.

He said: “We are very impressed with the approach taken by Jullian Preston-Powers in developing his new brain cooling crash helmet technology. We look forward to helping ThermaHelm reach global markets with their innovation and becoming a worldwide life saving advancement applicable to all forms of safety helmets.”

ThermaHelm has been working on this product for two years from its research base, called Innovation Stream, at the Sussex Innovation Centre in Brighton, East Sussex. The centre is part of Sussex University and has given great support and guidance to the development of the technology.

The ThermaHelm™ team has been liaising with Bridget Harris at the University of Edinburgh, who is developing a stationary brain-cooling helmet for universal placement in hospital ER and A&E departments in collaboration with Eurotherm – a Europe-wide study to further prove the definitive benefits of brain cooling. 

How it works

Two light-weight and non-toxic chemical packs are integrated into the helmet lining. They contain multiple trigger points to allow the chemicals to mix and initiate the endothermic (cold) reaction. One chemical pack contains water, the other ammonium nitrate. A sudden impact will cause a membrane to break, allowing the water to mix into the ammonium nitrate.

The endothermic reaction is immediate and cools the brain through small veins in the scalp called emissary capillaries. As the reaction is progressive, heat from the head will be continually absorbed. The cooling process lasts approximately 30-45 minutes and will maintain stable brain temperatures during this time. A hot and expanded brain flattens the blood ways, starving the brain tissue of vital oxygen. If the brain’s temperature can be stabilised, the accident victim is much more likely to avoid Traumatic Brain Injury and so increase his/her chances of survival.

A major benefit of the ThermaHelm ice pack is that the head remains cool without the need to take off the crash helmet, which could aggravate spinal or neck injuries sustained in the accident. Motorcycle helmets should only be removed following assessment by a medic. 

The benefits of a hypothermic state in trauma victims have been recognised for hundreds of years. In the early 19th Century, wounded soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars who were left out in the cold had a greater survival rate than their counterparts kept warm by camp fires. More recently, doctors have deliberately induced mild hypothermia in patients prior to emergency treatment during surgical operations.

The ThermaHelm brain-cooling device can be integrated into the manufacture of most standard motorcycle helmets. It is likely to add approximately £150 to the overall price tag. Research is ongoing to see if it is feasible to retrospectively fit the technology into existing helmets.

ThermaHelm™ branded impenetrable carbon fibre helmets will also be available, and will be competitively priced from £299 to £499.

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