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4 Things Football's Concussion Problem Is Teaching Medtech

  • 2. Ensuring Both Accuracy and Affordability

    A former British Army officer, Danny Crossman went on to design explosion impact sensors for the U.S. Marines, and even helped create a bomb suit that was highlighted in the movie "The Hurt Locker." But he says the toughest project he's ever handled involved the sports helmet impact sensor the Shockbox. Debuting in 2011 and sold by an Ottawa, Ontario–based company called Impakt Protective that Crossman co-founded, the strip-like sensor sticks on a helmet using Velcro. The Shockbox needed to be affordable enough that parents and athletes would buy it but accurate enough to sense head hits hard enough that they needed to be checked out.

    "That’s where the business challenge is, trying to make a complicated sensor as accurate as it can be at a low price, but with a very simple user interface," Crossman says. "The one area where this market will define itself is the accuracy of the data."

    The need for accuracy meant Crossman had to focus on everything from standard electronics to size, weight, power, and cost. "For hockey, it has to be low profile and pass the mirror test. For football it has to be thin enough to be inside the helmet and not affect the helmet," Crossman says.

    The Shockbox uses long-range Bluetooth to get a signal to a coach or parent's smartphone or tablet. The signal warns when an athlete has taken a risky hit to the head. In no way way does it prevent concussions, but it at least indicates when something should be checked out. "My smoke alarm goes off quite a bit, but I've never had a fire in my house," Crossman says.

    Find out about the next lesson learned >>

  • 1. Focus on What Matters Most

    Pittsburgh-based Neuro Kinetics last year won a Head Health Challenge II grant to test the company’s portable eye-movement detection device, the I-Portal PAS. The company shared the $500,000 grant with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

    The I-Portal Portable Assessment System, or PAS, uses advanced digital camera technology to measure eye movement in patients, according to Alexander Kiderman, PhD, Neuro Kinetics’ chief technology officer. One of the most important issues in treating concussions involves initial diagnosis and a determination of the appropriate time to return to work or play; the PAS could potentially help do that.

    One of the major challenges for the PAS, though, has been the amount of visual data it needs to generate. Most cameras produce 60 frames per second, but the company wanted 100 frames per second. Rather than decrease the pixel density, which would produce a blurry photo, they edited out unnecessary parts of each image, such as the patient’s eyebrow and upper cheek, and enlarged it to focus on the critical clinical region of the eye, Schroeder said.

    Find out about the next lesson learned >>

  • 3. The Power of Simple Design

    The Shockbox has smartphone alerts and even data analysis for Android-based users. Flexible electronics company MC10 (Cambridge, MA) kept it much more simple with its Checklight, now marketed by Reebok. Thin flexible sensors in a skullcap send signals to an LED light hanging from the back of the helmet. A hit to the head changes the color from green to yellow, and an especially tough hit turns to red.

    Simplicity was essential so that the Checklight was easy to use and didn't get in the way of game play, says Isaiah Kacyvenski, a former Seattle Seahawks linebacker who is MC10's global head of business development for its consumer segment.

    "We had to make it as low profile as possible, so there wasn’t a big rigid box behind the neck," Kacyvenski says.

    At least for initial generations of the Checklight, the most important thing has been the "real-time feedback loop" the light provides, according to Kacyvenski.

    The simple design belies the revolutionary nature of the bendy electronics inside the skullcap. MC10 co-founder John Rogers spent years figuring out how to bake thin silicon circuits on a silicon base or substrate, chemically wash away the silicon surface underneath the circuit, and then use a specially designed rubber stamp to ever-so-gently transfer the thin circuit away to a flexible base. Rogers, PhD, of the University of Illinois-Champaign, thinks it is this transference process—this ability to remove circuits and other electrical components from the silicon they are baked on in a reasonable, reliable way—that is enabling all kinds of flexible electronic innovations such as body sensors that can be worn in a skullcap like the Checklight, or slapped onto the skin like a Band-Aid.

    Find out the next lesson learned >>

  • 4 Things Football's Concussion Problem Is Teaching Medtech

    There's a scramble underway to find devices that help prevent brain injuries in U.S. football, as well as other high impact sports such as hockey (not to mention what the rest of the world calls football). The quest for such devices is providing plenty of lessons to learn for mobile health and wearable device designers in general.

    This is a serious issue: The National Football League alone has proposed a $765 million settlement of concussion-related lawsuits. It estimates that nearly a third of its players will end up with a debilitating brain condition like Alzheimers or dementia and will have twice the lifetime risk as the general population of developing such conditions. The NFL and General Electric have been funding grants to some of the companies investigating devices and software to better monitor tackles on the field and their effects, including concussions.

    Read on to find out some of the design challenges behind these devices >>

    Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at MD&M West, in Anaheim, CA, February 10-12, 2015.

    Chris Newmarker is senior editor of Qmed and MPMN. Follow him on Twitter at @newmarker. (Nancy Crotti contributed to this story.)

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  • Next Feature: Dos and Don’ts of Medical Device Design 

    Whether it’s striving for simplicity in design or recognizing that people are capable of countless mistakes while using something, Qmed has collected feedback from our audience and added it to our list of dos and don’ts.

    Read on to find out more >>

  • 4. Knowing What You Do Not Know

    Adam Simon, a former Merck senior research physicist, has an early-stage company called Cerora. It’s headquartered at Bethlehem, PA–based Lehigh University, and is testing out a BIC lighter-sized EEG and software called the Cerora Borealis that could eventually provide better on-site diagnosis of concussions.

    Simon (shown above) acknowledges the research is a work in progress as the sensor—which can be mounted on Google Glass—measures tiny electrical signals on the surface of the skull.

    Devices such as the Checklight or Shockbox are merely providing a warning of a hit that could potentially produce a concussion. Cerora is trying to do something much more ambitious: create a device that could aid in onsite diagnosis.

    Simon has plenty of humility when it comes to the present state of research when it comes to concussions and athletics.

    “Lots of athletes are taking really big hits and not showing any signs of brain injury,” Simon says. “Folks don’t fully understand whether it was the musculature of the neck. Was it because someone was soft versus prepared? Was it because someone was using a slightly different technique to receive the blow or deliver it? This is where the objective evidence isn’t as advanced where we would like.”

    “We’re going to stay on the conservative side of what the data supports until we have even better data, and we’ll let the data lead our story.”

    Cerora is also seeking to build an array of biosensors—not just one. For example, Cerora is using digital signal processing to study athletes’ voices for signs of potential brain damage.

    Find out about more potential sports concussions solutions >>

4 Things Football's Concussion Problem Is Teaching Medtech

There's a scramble underway to find devices that help prevent brain injuries in U.S. football, as well as other high impact sports such as hockey (not to mention what the rest of the world calls football). The quest for such devices is providing plenty of lessons to learn for mobile health and wearable device designers in general.

This is a serious issue: The National Football League alone has proposed a $765 million settlement of concussion-related lawsuits. It estimates that nearly a third of its players will end up with a debilitating brain condition like Alzheimers or dementia and will have twice the lifetime risk as the general population of developing such conditions. The NFL and General Electric have been funding grants to some of the companies investigating devices and software to better monitor tackles on the field and their effects, including concussions.

Read on to find out some of the design challenges behind these devices >>

Refresh your medical device industry knowledge at MD&M West, in Anaheim, CA, February 10-12, 2015.

Chris Newmarker is senior editor of Qmed and MPMN. Follow him on Twitter at @newmarker. (Nancy Crotti contributed to this story.)

Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our daily e-newsletter.

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