Tackling Sports Concussions with a Digital Camera

Nancy Crotti

December 3, 2014

3 Min Read
Tackling Sports Concussions with a Digital Camera

A small Pittsburgh company called Neuro Kinetics thinks it has a digital camera-based solution for better and faster diagnosis of the concussions that have been plaguing high-impact sports including American football and hockey.

The digital imaging and data challenges that Neuro Kinetics has had to overcome as it seeks FDA approval provide a hint at just how difficult speedy diagnosis of concussions can be.

The stakes could not be higher for sports such as American football: The National Football League has proposed a $765 million settlement of concussion-related lawsuits, estimating that nearly a third of its players will end up with a debilitating brain condition, and do so earlier than the general population.

Concussion symptoms vary widely, making them difficult to diagnose. So the NFL, GE Ventures and Under Armour have their Head Health Challenge II grants to fund medical and biotechnology research to develop better and faster diagnostic tools, including ones that can be used in the locker room.

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

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 company and its university partners said in a statement. The current method of testing patients involves a cumbersome battery of tests that are only available at major medical centers, the statement said.

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.

The camera measures how quickly the eyes move side to side and up and down, how smoothly they work, and whether they converge. It's a high-tech version of an eye doctor assessing patients by having them follow the movement of a finger or pencil.

"The doctor doesn't know the exact position and velocity of finger stimulus," explained Howison Schroeder, company owner and president.

Neuro Kinetics had two problems to overcome in achieving accurate readings. 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.

Another challenge was how to measure patients' eye movement from side to side and back to center. Concussed patients will have many more movements to return to center if they can do it at all, Schroeder explained. Neuro Kinetics can break up this data to measure the accuracy of movements, he said.

The company has 510(k) clearance for 18 tests to diagnose vestibular (balance) and neurotologic issues, he added. It is working with the Food and Drug Administration on a 510(k) de novo process to gain approval for the I-Portal PAS as a concussion diagnostic tool, Schroeder said.

"We believe that we are on track to be the first FDA- cleared indication for concussion," he said. "We're at the tip of the iceberg for the power of this technology."

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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