New sideline test recognizes concussions in 15 minutes

by: Rachel Stockman Updated:

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ATLANTA -  As football season starts, concussions are a major concern for thousands of players.

A new technology called “I-Detect,” developed by Emory and Georgia Tech researchers, could change the way concussions are diagnosed.

The new technology gives players a 15-minute sideline test to determine whether they suffered a concussion. The device is currently in the test phase but could come to market as soon as next year, according to researchers.   

“The problem with these checklists (for concussions) as they are called, is different coaches, different trainers do it differently,” said Michelle LaPlaca, associate professor at Georgia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering. She is also a co-inventor of the I-Detect technology. 

“We’ve put them (the tests) in a computer format so they can be objectively scored,” LaPlaca said.

“We wanted to develop a tool that would assist the clinicians on the sidelines or in the military or in whatever location that they are in to reliably and consistently pick up concussions. And those tools don’t currently exist,” said Dr. David Wright, an emergency room physician and also a co-inventor of the device.

Doctors say one of the problems now with reliable concussion detection is that tests can be somewhat subjective and often rely on students or the injured person to report symptoms.

“We are putting them at risk because we are not diagnosing them when they are happening and they continue to play,” said Dr. Ken Mautner with Emory Sports Medicine. He said student athletes, and even professional athletes, often feel significant pressure to continue to play.

“Just relying on kids reporting their symptoms, we know there has got to be a better way than that,” Mautner said.

“I felt like I was going to pass out and I felt terrible. I was white, dizzy, I could barely walk,” said Caroline Rhodes, a high school lacrosse player.

Rhodes says she suffered two concussions: One swimming and another on the lacrosse field. She says after being hit by the lacrosse ball she continued to play for about 45 minutes.

“It did hurt and I just thought that was the ball, that’s what happens so I kept on playing,” Rhodes explained. She did eventually seek medical help, but says she wished she had realized her own symptoms earlier.

I-Detect tests players for memory loss, reaction, and response time. Players are outfitted with computer-screened goggles, headphones and a computer pad device.

“So by creating an immersive environment for the athlete or the soldier or the ER patient we were able to have them take these tests, challenge their brain in an environment that makes it much more reliable,” said Wright.  He admits, though, there are some challenges.

“Part of the challenge is validating the device. To validate it you have to get players who have had a concussion and you have to test it against some gold standard,” Wright said. “The problem with traumatic injuries is that we don’t really have a gold standard to compare it to. We don’t have pathology to look at, and say, yes, they’ve been injured.”

The project is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Football League, GE and Under Armor.

The inventors are hoping the product will be ready to go to market in one to two years.