Bill Elkins spent his early career helping astronauts survive the ravages of space. Now the engineer who once designed space suits for NASA believes he can increase the odds of survival for another group -- head trauma patients.
His company, Welkin's LLC, has designed a portable emergency cooling system to help triage traumatic brain injuries like concussions. The helmet helps cool the brain to induce a controlled form of hypothermia, which can protect nerve cells.
"Cooling the brain puts the nerves in hibernation, Elkins said. "And that can cause recovery."
Earlier this year we profiled how hypothermia is being used to treat infants with potential brain injuries at UCSF's Benioff Children's Hospital in San Francisco.
During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Defense Department wanted a portable system for soldiers in the field.
"They wanted a battlefield, man portable, battery powered, easy to operate system," said Christopher Blodgett, COO of Welkins LLC. He notes that the portable system has applications far beyond the battlefield, "So we've got this lightweight pack, it uses easy to change ice cartridge, standard off the shelf batteries."
And the company believes it could become a standard option for paramedics to protect against a variety of potential brain injuries, including the increased number of athletes being treated for concussions.
"Pre-concussive injuries that football players and other athletes face cause demyelination in the brain," Elkins said. "It may not show up right away, but the damage is done. And cooling slowing nerve velocity increasing the amplitude causes recovery."
Welkins LLC believes its helmet design will cause less stress on other organs such as the lungs and heart, compared to systems that cool the entire body.
The liquid cooling helmet just received FDA clearance, and the company hopes to have it on the market by early next year. They also have talks scheduled with the NFL about this new innovation.
Written and produced by Tim Didion