Neural injury

Injury is the leading cause of death for people under 45 years of age. Our research ranges from basic research on the mechanisms of injury, to developing improved treatments for people post-injury.

NeuRA is interested in how the body’s tissues respond to mechanical forces, both as a part of normal function and in injury, such as in physical trauma. A major part of our neural injury research involves understanding how injuries occur in road trauma, which is a leading cause of death and disabling injury in Australia, for both adults and children.

We are studying how these injuries occur, and how changes to the types and design of restraints used by children and passengers in the rear seat of cars can reduce serious injuries and death.

Our research approaches

NeuRA’s research is directed towards understanding the mechanisms of spinal injury in children, and improving child restraints used in cars.

Specific issues we are investigating include whether children use restraints correctly and whether the rear seat restraints perform as well as those for front seat passengers.  Fundamental to this work is understanding the differences between injuries in children and in adults. This includes researching differences in body tissues, height, load tolerance, how stiff they are, and how these factors, along with developmental changes, affect the types of injury that children sustain.

We are also using MRI techniques to measure the stiffness of body tissue in live human subjects in ways that have previously been impossible. This is allowing us to examine changes in tissue in brain cancer, in a condition called hydrocephalus (fluid accumulation in the brain) and also in muscles after injury.  This technique also has applications beyond road trauma research, such as assessing changes in tissue stiffness in some diseases, such as cancer. 

The way mechanical forces affect the tissues of the human nervous system is also an area of research for NeuRA. This ranges from spinal cord and peripheral nerve injury to chronic conditions such as syringomyelia and hydrocephalus. Recent work on the mechanical factors in spinal cord injury has shown that the difference in spinal cord injury incidence and severity between adults and children is influenced both by fundamental differences in the spinal column flexibility and stiffness. 

Our research discoveries

Through this ongoing research, we have discovered the following:

  • Many injuries to children in car crashes are preventable by using a restraint that is the right size for the child, and using the restraint correctly.
  • Children are not big enough to fit properly into adult car seats and belts until about 11 years of age.
  • Differences in spinal cord injury between adults and children may be related to differences in the stiffness of their spinal column and responses to forces that occur during injury.