Basketball Players Help Test Concussion Goggles

As a guard on the Hurricanes women’s basketball team, Laura Cornelius doesn’t worry much about suffering a concussion. “I take care of myself,” she says.

But the 5-8 freshman from the Netherlands was surprised to learn that the rate of concussion, the most common form of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), has been growing among athletes, especially female athletes, and particularly female soccer players. As Dr. Mikhaylo Szczupak, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Miller School of Medicine’s Department of Otolaryngology, notes, “Female soccer players of all ages, from peewees to pros, have one of the highest rates of concussion, almost on par with football players.”

So last week, Cornelius was happy to join many of her teammates and many players on the men’s basketball team in their training room at the BankUnited Center for a voluntary research study aimed at testing a portable, head-mounted goggle system that is designed to quickly and accurately diagnose mild TBI on the sidelines.

The study’s principal investigator, Michael E. Hoffer, M.D., professor of otolaryngology and director of the Department of Otolaryngology’s Vestibular and Balance Program, was awarded a $500,000 grant from the NFL, Under Armour, and General Electric to determine whether the IPAS system is effective at diagnosing a mild TBI and, secondarily, ruling one out in both athletes and non-athletes.

‘‘I think it was interesting, and actually fun,” said Cornelius, upon completing the test, which took less than 15 minutes and consisted of tracking 3D images displayed in the goggles. “And one day it will really help a lot of people.”

Developed by Neuro Kinetics, Inc. (NKI), a Pittsburgh-based company and partner in the grant, the I-Portal PAS goggle is outfitted with software that records eye movements, balance, and reaction time to determine whether an athlete who has been shaken up on the field can return to play or should seek further medical attention.

Members of UM’s football team, the women’s soccer and volleyball teams, and club sports teams already have tested the goggles, contributing the baseline data that one day could help the goggles win approval as a medical device. If so, Szczupak sees a future where the portable concussion detectors become a common piece of equipment on the sidelines of every sport, at every level.

“Right now, there is no universally accepted gold standard for detecting a concussion,” he said. “Working with NKI, UM researchers have developed a method to diagnose the disorder on a sophisticated $250,000 rotary chair found in specialized balance centers. But these prototype goggles cost, by order of magnitude, considerably less, and the hope is, one day, they will be affordable enough to be found on every sideline—not just at professional games, but at middle and high schools, league sports, and your daughter’s soccer game.’’

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