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Awarded New Investigator/Doctoral Dissertation Grant

Mechanics of Head Impact in Infants

FOA Number: CE04-049 - Grants for Dissertation Awards for Doctoral Candidates for Violence-Related and Unintentional Injury
Project Period: 8/01/04–7/31/05
Application/Grant Number: 1-R49-CE000411-01
Principal Investigator: Brittany Coats, BSE
University of Pennsylvania
120 Hayden Hall
3320 Smith Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Phone: 215-898-9055
Fax: 214-573-2071


Falls are the most common cause of unintentional injury among infants (<1 year) as well as the most common history provided by caretakers in cases of suspected child abuse. A recent study reported that there is a clinician bias to investigate the possibility of child abuse more thoroughly in ethnic and racial minority families than in Caucasian families. The long-term objective of this study is to aid in the development of a more objective evaluation strategy to distinguish between violence-related and unintentional injury etiologies by defining biomechanical tolerances of pediatric tissues and mechanisms of injury. Skull fracture is a common finding for both violence-related and unintentional head injuries, and it is not clear what fall heights cause skull fracture in young children. The goals of the proposed research plan are to conduct tissue mechanical property testing of human infant skull and suture, perform detailed anthropomorphic dummy simulations, and combine them to identify fall conditions and violence-related impact forces associated with skull fracture.

The specific aims are as follows:

  1. Measure the rate-dependent material properties of cranial suture and occipital/parietal bone of human infant skull. Identify the stress/strain thresholds of human infant skull and suture associated with fracture.
  2. Construct a biofidelic 1½-month-old infant dummy and measure the forces resulting from cranial impact after falls from 1, 3, and 5 feet onto soft and hard household surfaces.
  3. Obtain parental accounts, in addition to medical records, of witnessed accidental falls of infants admitted with and without skull fracture.
  4. Recreate these accidental falls using the biofidelic infant created in Aim 2 and measure the resulting impact forces.

These key elements will be used in computational models to identify fall heights that exceed the stress/strain thresholds for the human infant skull and suture associated with fracture. By determining the fall heights capable of creating skull fracture, clinicians will be better equipped to make objective assessments in identifying violence-related head injuries, unbiased by race or ethnicity.