A Virtual Reality Solution to Help Spot Concussions

Nancy Crotti

April 27, 2016

3 Min Read
A Virtual Reality Solution to Help Spot Concussions

Born out of Stanford research, the FDA-cleared Eye-Sync device measures jitter in eye movement.

Nancy Crotti

FDA has cleared a virtual reality, eye-tracking headset that can detect concussion symptoms in less than 60 seconds.

Eye-Sync, from Boston-based startup SyncThink, is the product of years of research by the Stanford Concussion and Brain Performance Center at Stanford School of Medicine. The goggles measure jitter in eye movement, which can predict difficulty in paying attention, a concussion symptom that often shows up days after the injury. Wearers use their eyes to follow a dot that travels in a circle for 15 seconds before the test begins again.

Publicity about concussions in the NFL and evidence of long-term injury from concussions have schools, parents, and the military clamoring for fast concussion diagnoses. The Department of Defense has invested about $30 million into SyncThink and the associated Brain Trauma Foundation to develop Eye-Sync, according to the company's chief technology officer, Daniel Beeler.

"The athletic directors want to know right away whether somebody had a concussion, and they have limited time to be able to do that assessment," said neurosurgeon and Eye-Sync inventor Jamshid Ghajar. "You can't have a one-hour test on the sidelines. You've got to do it under a few minutes, so I think that sort of limits (what) you can and cannot use. And one day, I guess you can bring an MRI scanner to the sidelines, but for right now, we can't do that."

Eye-Sync was designed for rapid assessment, but is just one tool that clinicians need to accurately diagnose a concussion, Ghajar said in March at an FDA workshop on advancing the development of biomarkers for detecting traumatic brain injury. Stanford is already using Eye-Sync on the sidelines at football games.

Eye-Sync will also be an important tool to track patients' attention performance improvements during recovery, according to Ghajar, director of the brain performance center at Stanford and of president of the Brain Trauma Foundation. Because so few objective measurements of concussion are available, patients may return to play or work too soon or delay their return too long, Beeler added.

Brain-injury researchers and manufacturers are scrambling to come up with devices that can prevent or detect brain injury. A small Pittsburgh company called Neuro Kinetics won 510(k) clearance in June 2015 for its I-Portal otologic testing system, which includes a headset-mounted digital camera system that measures how quickly the eyes move side to side and up and down, how smoothly they work, and whether they converge.

Eye-Sync may have other uses beyond concussions, according to Beeler. Researchers are studying eye movement as an indicator of other neurological conditions, including Huntington's, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's diseases, as well as in psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

SyncThink, which has 10 employees, manufactures Eye-Sync in its downtown Boston offices, but it has the potential for tremendous growth in athletics, medicine, and the military, according to an article Forbes.

"We're trying to develop a business model that serves all of those markets," Beeler said.

Nancy Crotti is a contributor to Qmed and MPMN.

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About the Author(s)

Nancy Crotti

Nancy Crotti is a frequent contributor to MD+DI. Reach her at [email protected].

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