Imperial College London and Save the Children launched the world’s first center for research dedicated to studying and providing lifesaving innovations to children injured by explosive weapons. The Centre for Paediatric Blast Injury Studies brings together medics, engineers, pain specialists, operational humanitarians, and prosthetics and rehabilitation experts who are already driving new research and innovations to meet the clinical needs of children with blast injuries. The team will initially focus on addressing the lack of prostheses in Ukraine, where four children per day are injured or killed and where mines and unexploded ordnance threaten the lives and limbs of over two million children.
Children are seven times more likely to die from blast injuries than adults. They tend to experience different types of injuries than adults and require specialized care that accounts for their physiology and growth. However, research on the best ways to treat child-specific blast injuries lags far behind research for injured adults.
To address those needs, researchers at the new center are using motion-capture technology to analyze the movements of people using prosthetic limbs in detail and see how prostheses can be improved. They can then quickly 3D print new prototypes and conduct detailed tests to see how the prosthetic devices perform when faced with specific forces and strains so that new designs can be further refined.
The center also has facilities that simulate the effects of different types of blast, to study the fundamental science behind blasts’ effects on how bones grow and how soft tissues heal.
“As more and more children today live in conflict zones, we need child-specific, translational research that looks at everything from the initial emergency response, to treatments, to prosthetics and development into adulthood,” said Anthony Bull, PhD, director of the center and a professor in the college’s Department of Bioengineering. “This new center will address an unmet need: treating children with blast injuries in a research-led, highly translational way to help them become healthy adults.”
Latest data revealed in 2021 that one in six children globally—449 million children—lived in a conflict zone. That figure will rise dramatically once the Ukraine conflict is considered. Children are 50 percent more likely than adults to suffer blast injuries after fighting ends, as many of their injuries happen when they go outside to play again and pick up unexploded devices.
“We are already developing low-cost, age-appropriate prosthetics for children with limb amputation that consider growth and physiological development in conflict affected areas,” said Imperial PhD candidate Caitlin Edgar. “We will expand our research to the mechanical effects of blasts on the growth mechanisms in bones, and the effects of pain and stress on trauma and healing.”
The center will use the initial funding from Save the Children to support new four-year doctoral studentships to understand the biomechanics of blast on the child, emergency medical needs, rehabilitation, and surgical and rehabilitation technology.
Imperial’s partnership with Save the Children has also developed a Paediatric Blast Injury Field Manual, which helps medics in conflict zones treat children quickly across the continuum of care. Already translated into six languages, the manual is being used in twelve conflict zones including Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan.
Editor’s note: This story was adapted from materials provided by Imperial College London.