Shielding the brain from injury

Mitacs entrepreneur sets out to revolutionize helmet industry

Despite the use of helmets, contact sports such as football and hockey account for a high number of TBIs. Given the popularity of these sports, how can we improve the players’ safety?

Taking up the challenge of helmet safety

It was 2010 and Daniel Abram had started a postdoctoral fellowship in mechatronic systems engineering at Simon Fraser University. Originally from Iran, Daniel was challenged by his supervisor, Dr. Farid Golnaraghi, to find a way to make sport helmets safer.

“Nearly all helmets on the market now are designed, tested and certified to protect the wearer against skull fracture and tested using a vertical impact test rig for compression only,” Daniel explains. “The problem is that in most accidents, the head hits an obstacle at an angle, causing not only compression but a sharp twisting of the head and neck. A combination of these two factors significantly increase the risk of brain injuries.”

After looking into the issue for several months, Daniel’s team had a moment of clarity.

We realized that our goal wasn’t to design a new kind of helmet; it was to develop a technology to be added to existing helmets.”

“We came up with the idea for an impact-diverting mechanism, called BrainShield.”

To further the research, Daniel and Dr. Golnaraghi, in partnership with Innovata Labs, applied for three Mitacs Accelerate internships and later, a Mitacs Elevate fellowship. Through the internships and a fellowship, the team developed BrainShield, a micro-engineered layer that can easily be applied, like a decal, on top of the helmet, to reduce both sharp twisting and compression of the head during most of angled impacts.

Introducing BrainShield

BrainShield from Shield-X Technology Inc. is the first-of-its-kind functional sticker made of micro-engineered layers that can easily be installed on the outer-shell of helmets and significantly enhances their protection. Less than 1mm thick, the decal enhances the protection of helmets and can either be transparent or printed with a team logo.

In 2014, the coach of the Simon Fraser University football team, Jacques Chapdelaine, very interested in enhancing player protection, agreed to have his team test BrainShield for one season. According to him player concussions dropped from 14 in 2013 to only 4 in 2014.

Going to market

Daniel has discovered that moving a new product from prototype to manufacturing is hard. “There is so much to learn, from funding to sourcing and then processing materials and, ultimately, manufacturing,” he said. “Having a good idea and working prototype is only the beginning, but we have been fortunate as the feedback from professional end-users on BrainShield have been great.”

With relentless determination, Shield-X Technology secured venture capital funding in the fall of 2014 and is negotiating a license with an international manufacturer.

With the future looking bright for Shield-X Technology and BrainShield, Daniel is quick to look back to the beginning of the project, to where it all began.

“Mitacs was the first organization to believe in us; they believed in our vision in 2010 that safer helmets were feasible,” he explains. “Without Mitacs’ support, I believe that we could not have gotten to the stage that we are, with BrainShield almost ready to hit the market and revolutionize the concept of helmet protection.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates,  the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba.

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