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Device to produce traumatic brain injury in model organisms

Research tool for immobilizing animal and precisely inflicting head trauma


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of neurological deficits, resulting from mechanical forces that deform the brain, along with secondary injuries triggered by molecular responses. TBI outcomes are heterogeneous due to the variation in the location and strength of primary injuries, in addition to genetic and environmental factors. A significant number of TBI injuries are diagnosed in military combat troops and athletes. Acute care and rehabilitation are needed for TBI sufferers. According to the CDC, 2.5 million emergency department visits and hospitalizations are associated annually with TBI, with 50,000 deaths. The leading causes of TBI are falls, blunt trauma, assaults, and car accidents.


The Bonini and Meaney Labs have developed a device to induce traumatic brain injury in Drosophila, where an anesthetized fruit fly is temporarily immobilized in a small plastic holder and a piezoelectric striker quickly deflects on the top of the head. The animal head is compressed and then returns to its original speed. The striker’s speed, duration of head compression, and amount of compression are independently controlled through a timing circuit and an Arduino microcontroller. Only the head region of the animal is affected by the striker, with consistent severity of the injury inflicted. While demonstrated with Drosophila, the device could be adapted readily for C. elegans and zebrafish research.


  • Commercially available device components
  • Affects only head region of animal, rather than entire body
  • Reproducible severity of injury inflicted
  • Control device mechanics to mimic timing of forces that occur in concussive head injury


  • Model organism research to investigate molecular mechanisms underlying TBI
  • Identify factors in onset of neurodegenerative diseases
  • Aid in screening for genes, small molecules, and pharmaceuticals for effects on TBI outcomes


In A, schematic of Drosophila device that selectively targets the head. In B, images of the concussion to the head upon deflection of the apparatus.

Stage of Development:

Prototype constructed and in vivo data

Desired Partnerships:

  • License
  • Co-development


Patent Information:


Docket # 17-8064

For Information, Contact:

Cortney Cavanaugh Licensing Officer, SEAS/SAS Licensing Group
University of Pennsylvania