Blast-induced traumatic brain injury (bTBI) is a “signature” wound affecting service-members in modern conflicts. When a blast wave generated by an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion propagates through the head, it is hypothesized to cause direct mechanical damage to the brain tissue leading vascular injury, cerebral edema as well as less detectable
but persistent deficits. However, the exact mechanisms that cause primary bTBI still remain poorly understood. One of the main reasons for such poor understanding is the technical challenge of reproducing the typical time-varying loading cycles induced on brain tissue after a blast event. Blast events have a sub-millisecond onset of high pressure followed by complex dynamics resulting from interaction between the blast wave and the complex anatomical structure of the human head. To generate such pressure loadings, researchers have implemented experimental techniques such as shock-tubes, blast-tubes, as well as Split-Hopkinson Bars. These methods have limited control over the pressure profiles that they can generate, are not easily tunable to replicate the intracranial pressure (ICP) dynamics, and are in general very expensive, requiring significant technical expertise and large laboratory spaces. An ideal solution to this challenge is to create a completely controllable, portable, reproducible, and inexpensive method to generate “blast-like” pressure profiles onto living tissue and cell cultures and would be easily shared between laboratories. To tackle these experimental challenges, our group developed a novel apparatus using a water-filled piston-cylinder assembly driven by a piezoelectric actuator to generate arbitrarily complex and fast-varying pressure profiles. The apparatus successfully generated pressures up to 450 kPa at frequencies up to 5 kHz. The designed apparatus is compact, easily portable, and highly controllable, making it well suited for biomedical applications.