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Identification of Blunt Force Traumatic Fractures in Burned Bone

Award Information

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Competitive Discretionary
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Past Project Period End Date
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2019, $212,738)

Burned human remains are often the focus of medicolegal examinations. Heat can obscure or degrade traumatic signatures. This is especially true when dealing with blunt force trauma and differentiating between blunt force traumatic and heat induced fractures is particularly challenging. The goal of this basic scientific research is to provide the National Institute of Justice a standardized protocol with associated error rates to correctly identify perimortem blunt force fractures on burned human remains. To achieve this goal, a two-phase, three year project is proposed.

During Phase I, 20 human donors from the Forensic Anthropology Center’s Body Donation Program will be enrolled for the trauma and thermal research. Fifteen donors will be impacted with blunt force trauma to the skull, thorax (ribs), humerus, and tibia using a specially designed gantry impact system that will control the impact load. Five donors will serve as total controls. There will be a total of 90 impact sites and 50 control sites without blunt force trauma. Following the impact, all donors will be exposed to a thermal event in an open-air pyre where both temperature and burn time will be controlled. Digital x-rays will be taken both prior to and following the burning event. A numerical coding system will be used to document the fracture patterns allowing direct comparison between blunt force and thermal fractures as well as blunt force fracture signatures prior to and following the thermal event. Using the results from the fracture analysis, in Phase II the investigators will propose a standardized protocol which will provide a step-by-step guide to fracture analysis of burned human remains. The guide will include the results from Phase I, descriptions, and images. The protocol’s reliability will be tested with an interobserver study. Professional forensic anthropologists and medical examiners will observe x-rays and reconstructed skeletal elements and, following the protocol, will determine if the visible fractures are a result of blunt force or thermal events. Their answers will provide data for calculation the method’s error rate thereby providing quantitative data for the reliability of the analytic method as well as data on the difficulty or ease in fracture identification. This project will provide NIJ a method for confident interpretation of fractures on burned remains and is also a continuing step in shifting trauma research towards quantitative methods. Deliverables for this effort will consist of financial and semi-annual progress reports and final research and progress reports.

Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law, and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR 200.210(a)(14).


Date Created: September 16, 2019