A newly-approved device using infrared cameras to track eye movements promises to help detect concussions in one minute, offering a speedy insight into whether athletes have sustained the injury.
Boston-based neuro-technology company SyncThink got clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February for its first device, "Eye-Sync," the first of its kind to get the green light from the authority amid growing concerns over brain injuries in contact sports.
Head trauma affects the brain's anticipatory neural network, which guides human reactions, and the tool focuses on analyzing visual response.
The user puts on a virtual reality headset connected to a computer tablet, with a moving circle appearing in the display.
As the user follows the circle, the cameras follow the eyes and the data collected is compared against a baseline of normal eye movement for diagnosis.
"Our assessment data is collected at a very high rate which allows us to produce a full assessment within one minute," Dan Beeler, SyncThink chief technology officer, told Reuters.
Symptoms, long-term dangers
Symptoms of concussions, a mild form of traumatic brain injury sustained with a blow to the head, can vary from headaches and confusion to slurred speech and vomiting. In certain instances, symptoms can take days to appear.
Concussions can be difficult to diagnose, leaving athletes at higher risk of a more serious brain injury if they continue to perform concussed.
Last month, a top National Football League official acknowledged a link between football-related concussions and the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in testimony at a U.S. congressional hearing.
In other contact sports — such as rugby, soccer and Australian rules football — there is a growing awareness of the risks posed by concussion, with several sports changing their rules or adopting new protocols to ensure a higher level of player safety.
"There is much more awareness of the risks out there, a growing acceptance of those risks and ways to mitigate them, and our technology can play a part in that," Beeler said.
"The technology we have built into this device has been developed over the past decade and we have been very careful about it."
The company has been working with the U.S. military and university sports teams on the device, which costs $25,000.
It is not the only company looking at such equipment. New York-based Oculogica is developing a "patent-pending eye-tracking technology" to help detect concussions and traumatic brain injury.