NFL Grant Awarded to Study Novel Diagnostic Device for Concussions

A $500,000 grant from the National Football League will enable the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and medical equipment manufacturer Neuro Kinetics Inc. to test the effectiveness of a diagnostic device prototype, the I-Portal® PAS goggle, for early and accurate detection of concussions.

The NFL grant, one of seven announced separately November 13 by the football league and cosponsors Under Armour and GE Ventures, was awarded to the Miller School of Medicine’s Michael Hoffer, M.D., professor of otolaryngology. Carey Balaban, Ph.D., professor of otolaryngology, neurobiology, bioengineering, and communication science and disorders, and vice provost at the University of Pittsburgh, and Robert Cantu, M.D., clinical professor of neurology and neurosurgery and co-founder of the CTE Center at Boston University School of Medicine, will collaborate in the research project.

Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), also known as concussion, is a major public health issue that not only is a common injury in modern warfare, but is also one of the most common causes of emergency room visits by adolescents and young adults. One of the most important issues in treating mTBI involves initial diagnosis and determination of appropriate return to work or play. The current method of testing patients involves a cumbersome battery of tests that are only available at major medical centers.

The collaborative work of Hoffer, Balaban and Cantu, along with Neuro Kinetics, aims to further develop a portable diagnostic device that will accurately assess some of the more common symptoms of mTBI, such as dizziness and balance disorders. With that in mind, physicians have been focused on finding a pattern of balance tests that characterize a patient with mTBI. While still ongoing, the work with Neuro Kinetics has revealed a few specific tests that help identify mTBI. The tests could be performed outside of a hospital setting with a pair of goggles.

The device prototype and testing protocols to be studied have been developed by Neuro Kinetics (NKI), a 30-year-old medical device manufacturer that has long been a world leader in providing diagnostic solutions for neurotologists, audiologists and others for the detection of vestibular, equilibrium and related issues. NKI’s core technology, called I-Portal®, gathers precise measurements of how eyes move in response to a range of stimuli. By measuring post-incident eye movements against non-concussed controls, medical practitioners are expected to gain an objective tool in the diagnosis of concussions.

The prototype of NKI’s concussion diagnosis device features a goggle with imbedded eye tracking and stimulus display. The device is portable and can be easily used at a sports venue following a possible concussion-causing incident, as well as on a battlefield. With funding support from the U.S. Department of Defense, NKI currently is conducting clinical trials using both NKI’s I-Portal NOTC (Neurotologic Test Center) and I-Portal PAS (Portable Assessment System) at military medical facilities.

“There’s widespread awareness that concussions are a serious crisis for both our military personnel and athletes at every level of professional and school sports,” said Hoffer, who recently retired from a 20-year career with the U.S. Navy. “It is urgent that we develop new and improved techniques for quick and accurate detection of potentially life-changing concussions. We are grateful to the NFL, Under Armour and GE for their support of this important work.”

Hoffer began his research into traumatic brain injuries while in the military, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, with support from the Office of Naval Research, Army Medical Research and Materials Command and the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence. This project capitalizes on the University of Miami’s experience in traumatic brain injury and will feature collaboration between the Otolaryngology Department and The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis.

“We are extremely pleased to have Dr. Hoffer’s expertise in the field of traumatic brain injury here at the University of Miami,” said Fred Telischi, M.D., M.E.E., professor and chair of otolaryngology at the Miller School. “There’s no doubt that we’ll be able to accelerate diagnosis as we work in collaboration with other centers of excellence at UM and with other institutions.”

Added Howison Schroeder, NKI President and CEO, “We are honored to be working with Drs. Hoffer, Balaban and Cantu and their colleagues in Miami, Pittsburgh and Boston. We believe our I-Portal technology shows great potential for developing a much needed practical, objective and readily deployable new diagnostic tool that can have widespread application in the military and sporting venues around the world.”

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