New £8m blast injury research centre opens at Imperial

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Media captionProf Anthony Bull explains the aims of the new centre

A new £8 million research centre has opened which will study the effects of roadside bombs on British soldiers.

The Royal British Legion Centre for Blast Injury Studies at Imperial College in London will also devise new equipment to protect personnel.

Improvised explosive devices or IEDs are the biggest cause of deaths and injuries to UK troops in Afghanistan.

Scientists at the centre will study the effects on the whole body of blasts "right down to the cellular level."

Blast simulator

Blast injury studies have been conducted at laboratories at Imperial for some time, and the facilities there already include a blast injury simulator.

"Anubis" is both the name for an Egyptian god of the underworld and the Anti-vehicle Underbelly Blast Injury Simulator.

A large blue machine on wheels, the device can replicate the effects on human tissue of a roadside bomb hitting an armoured personnel carrier.

"It simulates an under-vehicle blast by creating a very large movement of a large lump of metal upwards which encroaches on the human body," the centre's director, Professor Anthony Bull told the BBC.

"We can use this to do experiments on human tissues to see how they're damaged and then we can try and mitigate against these injuries."

The centre also hopes to devise new combat boots which can transfer the impact of an IED from the heel to the shin bone, for example, which they believe could result in fewer amputations.

They are using a blue putty-like substance called "shear-thickening fluid" which stiffens to absorb more energy when impacted.

Image caption Improvised explosives are the leading cause of injuries and deaths to British soldiers in Afghanistan

The centre will also be investigating "blast lung", the most common cause of death among soldiers who survive the initial explosion. Symptoms include severe bruising, bleeding and damage to blood vessels in the lung.

The majority of the money for the new centre is coming from the Royal British Legion. The organisation believes technology is already saving lives, but that more can be achieved.

"People are surviving injuries they wouldn't have survived five years ago as a result of all sorts of improvements," said Chris Simpkins, Director General of the Royal British Legion.

"But we don't full understand why, for example, an individual who has had a below-the-knee amputation is experiencing long-term excruciating pain in the other limb.

"The research here will examine the effects on the entire body - not just the visible effects of severe wounds - right down to the cellular level."

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