As of now, there’s no 100 percent accurate method to determine whether a student-athlete has sustained a concussion within minutes of the potential injury.
Dennis Molfese, director of the University of Nebraska’s new Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, has set out to change that.
One of the main initiatives of the center, which opens this month, is the development of a sideline-concussion-assessment tool for student-athletes. The center will utilize a functional magnetic resonance imaging (or fMRI) machine to track blood flow within areas of the brain and detect subtle changes.
“We can get an idea of what area of the brain is being involved in the process, whether the speed of processing is at the rate it should be,” Molfese said to the Associated Press. “The different areas of the brain that normally integrate information quickly stop doing that, so that’s another way we should be able to pick up whether there is an injury or not.”
If a student-athlete was suspected of having sustained a concussion, he or she would be removed from play immediately and put on an electrode-covered mesh cap. The device would track his or her brain’s response to certain stimuli, which would help health-care professionals determine whether it was safe to return to play that same day.
Molfese told the AP that he hopes to have the tool ready to be used within one to two years. If all goes according to plan, health-care professionals would have enough information to make a return-to-play decision within 10 minutes after running the student-athlete through the device.
“There’s no question it’s going to move the dial forward,” Brian Hainline, the chief medical officer of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, told the Associated Press. “The big, hoped-for dream would be, let’s have a biomarker in brain imaging. If you’re to the left of that, you’re safe; if you’re to the right of it, you’re not. That’s probably a few years out. But functional brain imaging and blood flow are going to be a very important part of that.”
At the moment, there are some fairly accurate sideline-concussion-diagnostic tools, such as the King-Devick test, currently in use. The computerized ImPACT test is another widely used concussion-management tool used to detect concussions in student-athletes. However, no single test has been proven to accurately determine 100 percent of concussions in student-athletes yet.
Likewise, Reebok has just introduced a new product called CHECKLIGHT that measures the force of impacts received by athletes. It’s similar to the accelerometer-equipped helmets used in a joint Virginia Tech-Wake Forest study that found the hardest hits for youth football players typically occurs during practice.
If the University of Nebraska’s fMRI machine can move closer toward the goal of reliably diagnosing concussions on the sidelines, it will mark major progress in the realm of concussion detection and management.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.