South Florida Hospital News
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December 2014 - Volume 11 - Issue 6

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Receives NFL Grant to Study Diagnostic Device for Concussions

Dr. Michael Hoffer, a University of Miami researcher and former Navy surgeon, wants to tackle sports-related head injuries at every athletic level, from the National Football League to your child’s soccer league. The professor of otolaryngology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has witnessed firsthand the effects of head injuries from his time on the battlefield.
Concussions are not only a common injury in warfare, but are also one of the most common causes of emergency room visits by adolescents and young adults. Following two tours of duty in Iraq, Dr. Hoffer began to research eye movement in response to sound after a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), also known as concussion.
“Concussions are often the most mis-categorized of all head injuries,” says Dr. Hoffer. “But after seeing several thousand individuals suffer from head injuries on the battlefield during both wars in Iraq, we noticed that the most common abnormality from a concussion was a balance disorder.”
Hoffer began his research into traumatic brain injuries while in the military, serving with the Marines in Iraq. His research in the Navy was supported by the Office of Naval Research, Army Medical Research and Materials Command and the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence. In 2008, he started researching a $300,000 diagnostic system developed by Pittsburgh-based Neuro Kinetics Inc.
Earlier this month, Dr. Hoffer along with his collaborators at Neurokinetics, Inc. and Dr. Carey Balaban at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine received a $500,000 grant from the NFL, and co-sponsored by Under Armour and GE Ventures, to test the effectiveness of a portable version of the same diagnostic device, called the I-Portal® PAS, for early and accurate detection of concussions. This would allow concussion tests to be performed outside of a hospital setting using just a pair of goggles. The I-Portal PAS can connect to any laptop computer and Dr. Hoffer envisions it will be on the sideline of every athletic event in the future.
The core technology behind the diagnostic device - the 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 I-Portal PAS 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.
“Football is the one sport where people think of concussions,” notes Dr. Hoffer. “People tend to forget that head injuries are common in both women’s and men’s soccer. Of course, you see it in rugby and lacrosse, and even in baseball and basketball. We are trying to develop a device that will work on the NFL playing field and playgrounds across America to diagnose and treat a concussion quickly.”
Some symptoms of a concussion appear immediately. One common symptom is a headache. Others might experience dizziness or unsteadiness. Another possible symptom is cognitive abnormalities such as not being able to remember things like names and dates. Other symptoms can include sleep issues - unable to fall asleep, staying asleep, or even sleeping way too long - and hearing abnormalities such as ringing in the ears.
“Those are the types of things you want to look for after you hit your head to know if you had a concussion,” says Dr. Hoffer. “But sometimes these symptoms may not occur for hours or even days or weeks.”
One of the most important issues in treating a concussion 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. In a sporting event, some athletes may want to go back in and play right away following a blow to their head. The I-Portal PAS would be able to detect immediately if the athlete indeed suffered a concussion and should be sidelined for the remainder of the game.
Although awareness of concussions has gradually increased over the past decade, Dr. Hoffer does not want parents to be overly concerned.
“We want kids to play and we think kids should play,” says Dr. Hoffer. “We do not want to restrict children from contact sports. However, if your child does suffer a head injury, we recommend seeing a neurologist or an otolaryngologist.”
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