Concussions are brain traumas caused by a blow to the head or a whiplash injury. The risk of concussions is greatly heightened in athletes playing high contact sports. Studies estimate that sports-related concussions occur between 1.6 and 3.8 million times per year in the United States alone.
Despite these staggering statistics, concussions remain poorly defined and are an ongoing challenge to accurately diagnose. Typically, imaging tests such as computed tomography (CT) scans are not able to pick up the subtle signs of brain injury following impact: mild bruising or brain bleeds. Instead, emergency room physicians rely largely on highly subjective functional impairments triggered by concussions, like issues with speech, memory loss, and difficulty with balance and coordination.
Doctors and engineers at the University of Michigan have invented a portable device (pictured below) that could change this. Using pulses of infrared lasers, the device detects the early signs of concussion on a cellular level. This completely noninvasive method works simply by placing the device on an individual’s forehead.
Infrared pulses penetrate deep into the cranium and interact with cytochrome C oxidase, a metabolic enzyme that can provide diagnostic clues as to how efficiently brain cells are using oxygen. During the early phases of concussion, levels of cytochrome C oxidase plunge, allowing the early identification of individuals requiring immediate medical attention.
As Steven Broglio, director of the Michigan Concussion Center said, “The quicker you identify a concussion, the faster you can begin the recovery process of resting and gradually returning to normal activity. Research in the last 10 years has shown that resting sooner can shorten recovery time, helping people get back to school, work and military duty.”
Sources: University of Michigan News.