Eurac Research Conducts Independent Medical Trial of Safeback SBX

March 24, 2023 | Bolzano, Italy

The South Tyrolean research center has launched an independent study to test the validity of SBX to increase the survivability of avalanche burial. The Norwegian start-up contacted Eurac Research to scientifically test the device and check whether it can significantly extend survival time in the snow.

A research group led by Eurac agreed to conduct a medical trial with Safeback SBX, but with complete independence from Safeback - financing it with its own funds and those of the research partner "MountainLab " (Mountain Medicine Research Group, University of Bergen). As a part of the trial, full burial tests were carried out on 30 volunteers who were among the first to experience complete snow burial with the system activated. The study’s results will be ready in the fall.

“The device has never been subject to a formal medical trial and the characteristics of the snow can possibly influence its effectiveness. For this reason, in our study we test the functionality with people actually buried in the snow and monitor various physiological parameters,” explains Giacomo Strapazzon, director of the Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine at Eurac and responsible for the study.

© Eurac Research | Marina Baldo

In the event of complete burial in an avalanche, oxygen deprivation is most often the cause of death. Safeback SBX was created precisely to provide fresh air to the victim under the snow, thus increasing the chances of rescuers of finding buried people alive. A continuous flow of air, for 90 minutes, pumps through the system up to the breathing area thanks to two flexible tubes positioned on the shoulder straps.

“Safeback has based the product development of the SBX on research and testing. It has always been our intention that the product be tested by independent researchers to confirm the effect of Safeback SBX in terms of extending life expectancy when trapped under the snow. With all their previous research on the subject, we fully trust their expertise to design and conduct a medical trial to find out just this,” adds Tor Berge, Co-founder, and CEO of Safeback.

The system functions via an electric air pump that exploits a particular property of snow: it is porous and permeable to air, even when snow is very heavy. The device essentially sucks the air out of the snow behind the victim's back and delivers it up to their face. Thanks to this constant supply of air, even in burials without air pockets, the amount of oxygen present could therefore be sufficient to survive, despite the victim exhaling carbon dioxide.

“At first, we were afraid we would be unable to recruit people willing to be completely buried in the snow, lying face-down on their stomachs, to contribute to this research. Contrary to expectations, about a hundred people applied and some insistently asked to be selected,” says Eurac doctor and researcher Frederik Eisendle.

© Eurac Research | Marina Baldo

Experts from Eurac expect that the differences in the time spent under the snow of the two groups give indications of the effectiveness of the device.

“We will still publish the results of the study as per scientific research practice, even in a case where they prove that the device does not work so well,” concludes Strapazzon.

Safeback SBX has already received the necessary certifications to be marketed by the manufacturer and will be sold in avalanche backpacks from Db and Bergans of Norway in the fall of 2023.

About Eurac's Institute for Mountain Emergency Medicine

Eurac Research is a private research center based in Bolzano (South Tyrol) with researchers from a wide variety of scientific fields who come from all over the globe. Together, through scientific knowledge and research, they share the goal of shaping the future.

In the Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine, research is dedicated to emergency medicine in alpine environments as well as high-altitude medicine and physiology.

Whether hiking or ski touring, climbing or paragliding, the cause and course of an accident require different patterns of care whether in the field or hospital. Casualties or acutely ill people are often exposed to extreme weather conditions in the mountains for long periods of time and recovery and transport over rough terrain carry additional risks for rescuers and rescued persons. Our research aims to improve diagnosis and treatment in the mountains by providing evidence-based scientific data and recommendations. They focus on cold trauma, analysis, and epidemiological recording of injuries and treatments of acute illnesses in the mountains.

Press Contact:

William Sherman

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About Safebeck

Safeback was founded in 2016 by three engineers and backcountry enthusiasts in Western Norway - Tor Berge, André Mjølhus, and Sigmund Andreassen. After analyzing the avalanche safety equipment available today, they realized that there was a lack of innovation and investment in solutions for the avalanche victim under the snow. They then set out to create user-focused products that reliably get backcountry travelers home safe. Safeback’s research and development has targeted the problem of asphyxia under the snow. Their initial product, Safeback SBX, is a breathing assistance system which actively provides clean air to the victim’s breathing area under snow, extending the survival window for up to 90 minutes.