Blast injury is a complex phenomenon involving interaction between the physical effects of blast, the material properties of human tissues and clinically relevant biological consequences. While some research has been conducted into these phenomena over the history of modern warfare (since blast became a common form of injury) the fundamentals, specifically as the microscopic and cellular levels, are still poorly understood. Blast polytrauma (damage to more than one of the body’s organ systems, as is typical of a modern blast scenario) is a very broad subject and therefore agencies such as the Royal British Legion are funding research at a range of universities to address specific areas of concern. In order to keep the research relevant to the situations faced in real blast injury scenarios, much of the focus of research is driven by clinical experts in the area.
A particular type of injury of interest to us currently is so-called ‘Blast Lung’. This is damage to the respiratory system as a whole, including the upper respiratory tract, brought about by the interaction of the high-pressure blast wave with the tissues of the body. The condition can be fatal, but observable symptoms may take hours to manifest. In order to investigate this phenomenon we subject biological samples to blast-relevant, high pressures waves using equipment such as the split-Hopkinson pressure bar and shock tube.
Bo C, Balzer J, Brown KA, Walley SM, Proud WG. Development of a chamber to investigate high-intensity compression waves upon live cell cultures. The European Physical Journal: Applied Physics, 2011; 55: 31201.