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Wake Forest Plays Integral Role in Effort to Revolutionize Vehicle Safety

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – From stiff plastic limbs and metal rods to complex virtual humans made of muscle, tendon and bone, the crash test dummies of yesteryear are evolving and researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine are among those bringing them to life.

This new generation of human body models will represent live humans with precision and detail not known in research “dummies” before. The models will contain detailed representation of the bones and soft tissues of the human body, with special attention to those parts that are frequently injured in vehicle collisions. They are expected to provide researchers with crucial knowledge needed to better predict the effect of different degrees of force and locations of impact on the body during an automobile crash than they have been able to do with traditional crash test dummies.

Wake Forest researchers have been selected to form the integration center by the Global Human Body Models Consortium (GHMBC), which started out as a group of nine car manufacturers and two automotive system suppliers formed in 2006 with the charge to create the world’s most detailed computer models of the human body in an effort to make automobiles the safest they can be for drivers and their passengers according to their specific height, weight, size, shape and age.

Since its creation, the GHBMC has selected six university and research teams from across the world to collaborate on the project as designated Centers of Expertise (COE). The COEs include five body region centers, which will concentrate on models of specific regions of the body. The centers and their assignments are:

• Wayne State University (Michigan) – head and brain
• University of Waterloo (Canada) – neck
• University of Virginia, Center European and Analysis Safety Studies (CEESAR, in France), and the University of Waterloo – thorax and upper extremities
• The French National Institute for Transportation and Safety Research (INRETS, in France) and Virginia Tech – abdomen
• University of Virginia, University of Alabama in Birmingham, and India Institute of Technology (Delhi, India) – lower extremities and pelvis
• Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Virginia Tech, Hongik University (South Korea), and University of Michigan – integration center

As the primary integration center, Wake Forest researchers will pull together all of the individual body region models from the regional COEs to form a virtual full-body model. Using medical imaging techniques including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT or CT), and laser surface scanning, the integration center will provide detailed anatomy and geometry for the computer model.

“Our job is to make sure all the regions of the body work together to approximate a total human, responding as a human being would in common crash scenarios,” said Joel Stitzel, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering and technical director of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University Center for Injury Biomechanics. Stitzel will be the lead investigator for the integration center at Wake Forest.

“This is a substantial undertaking, bringing together some of the leaders in the field of injury biomechanics and computer modeling to create a world standard model of the human for injury prediction,” Stitzel added. “It has the real potential to reduce injuries and save lives in car crashes.”

Initially, four different sizes of individuals, two male and two female, will be created in virtual human body model form to cover the wide range of living human body sizes. Future research will include the creation of a variety of models to represent different human body shapes, sizes and ages and, eventually, the GHBMC plans to create a family of virtual humans, from young children to senior adults.

“This research has the potential to lead to different safety systems and improved customization of safety systems for vehicle occupants,” Stitzel said. “It may one day allow vehicle safety system designers to consider the size, gender, and age of the occupant and customize the response for that individual.”

GHBMC members who currently form the Consortium include Chrysler LLC, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., Honda R&D Co., Hyundai Motor Co., Nissan Motor Corp. Ltd., PSA Peugeot-Citroen, Renault s.a.s., Takata Corp., Toyota Motor Corp. and TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. The GHBMC continues to seek more members wiling to consolidate their individual research and development activities in human body modeling into a single global effort to advance crash safety technology.

“In many physical models and current computational models, we are limited as to the level of detail that we can evaluate,” Stitzel said. “The use of computer models allows us to represent blood vessels, organs and bones in a tool that can evaluate the risk of injury with a greater degree of precision and accuracy than has been possible before. This is a very exciting evolution in vehicle safety which has the potential to save lives.”

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Media Relations Contacts: Jessica Guenzel, jguenzel@wfubmc.edu, (336) 716-3487; Bonnie Davis, bdavis@wfubmc.edu, (336) 716-4977; or Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu, (336) 716-4587.

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