Why don't woodpeckers get concussions? That was the underlying question that led to the invention of the Q-Collar concept by David Smith, a visiting research scientist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
The Q-Collar is a wearable neck device that applies slight pressure to the neck — specifically, the internal jugular vein — which increases blood volume in the brain, creating a "cushion" that reduces brain movement inside the skull during an impact. The collar borrows its technology from the woodpecker.
"Every time the woodpecker strikes his head against a tree, it constricts the jugular vein," said Jamison Float, senior biomedical engineer at Columbus, Ohio-based Priority Designs Inc., which assisted with the Q-Collar's development and commercialization.
"This puts just a little bit of backflow pressure on the outflow of the blood to the brain. That outflow pressure fills up the compliant space," he added. "When filling it up just a little bit more, the woodpecker is able to reduce the amount of brain slosh that happens … and, theoretically, prevent brain injury."
Float was also a speaker at the Design in Plastics event, directly following GaleWyrick's biomimicry presentation and providing another real-life example of the "borrowing from nature" design method.
The collar is made from silicone urethane elastomer and is weather-resistant, waterproof and washable.
"I think we're all aware of the concussion problem, particularly here in football," Float said. "There are 3.8 million concussions that happen in the United States every year — some more severe than others."
Q30 Innovations LLC, a research and development company in Westport, Conn., owns the licensing for the Q-Collar in the United States and is continuing clinical studies on the Class II device to receive FDA approval.
In Canada, Bauer Hockey Ltd. has licensed the technology as a Class I medical device called NeuroShield.
Float said he could not disclose whether athletes in the National Football League were testing out the Q-Collar.
"The best thing we can do [in the United States] is beef up the clinical data," he explained. "There are many additional clinical studies being planned for the next few years, and you'll find that those are very dependent upon the sports cycles."
The next time you catch a Carolina Panthers' game, be sure to zoom in on linebacker Luke Kuechly. The No. 59 player, who missed several games during the 2016 season due to concussions and was evaluated for another concussion in October, has been wearing something new around his neck.