FEB 15, 2018 06:11 AM PST

New Blink Reflex Test Quickly Diagnoses Concussions

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

A new device called the Blink Reflexometer™ could drastically improve field-side diagnostic capabilities used by athletic trainers and medical staff in diagnosing athletes suspected of having a concussion. Developed by Nancey Tsai, MD, from the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the new technology brings objectivity to a diagnostic field historically weighed down by misleading self-reporting and objective assessments of balance.

The Blink Reflexometer being used to measure the blink reflex of a cadet. Credit: The Citadel.

At least 25 percent of the nearly 4 million concussions estimated to occur in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have contact sports to blame, experts say. Current diagnostic measures are severely lacking objectivity in their assessments, but the new Blink Reflexometer™ provides the opportunity to change everything.

The device works as a “high-speed, videography-based” technique for analyzing a person’s blink reflex, which researchers find reliable as a “primitive reflex.” After Tsai developed the Blink Reflexometer™, The Citadel’s Dena Garner, PhD, was eager to join the project.

"Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury, and we know it's under-reported because, so often, it goes unnoticed or undiagnosed,” Garner explained. “The chance to test a piece of equipment that can be used field-side to assess concussions was especially compelling."

The device works like this. An individual suspected of having a concussion wears a mask that “delivers three to five air puffs at random intervals over 20 seconds” to the outer corner of the eye. The Blink Reflexometer™ records blink reflex at 280 frames/second, and specific frames isolated and analyzed.

"A human's blink reflex has a long pathway - originating at the facial area and continuing to the brain stem,” Garner explained. “If any place along that pathway is damaged, changes in the blink reflex can indicate that there is a potential problem.”

Tsai and Garner tested the the Blink Reflexometer™ by collecting blink reflex data in a study with 24 male football players between the ages of 18 and 22. The study participants were split into two groups: those who were suspected of experiencing a “concussive event” and those who were not, to serve as experimental and control groups. Researchers established baseline values for blink reflex parameters, athletic history, physical examination, balance parameters, and neurocognitive test scores.

A control group was particularly important in this study because normal blink reflex changes occur during active sports play even when a concussion is not involved. Researchers needed to be able to tell the difference between these normal changes and changes that implied an individual had experienced a concussion.

Ultimately, researchers were able to identify key differences between the control group and the potentially concussive group, including blink latency, lid velocity, and increase time for eyes to open.

"We now know that concussions and normal play both affect the blink parameters, but in differing directions,” Garner explained. “Our observations identified something distinctly different occurring in the concussion brains that can serve as a valuable new indicator for diagnosing the condition."

Going forward, Tsai, Garner, and other researchers plan on expanding the collection of blink reflex data to other age groups and sports. Someday soon, they hope to apply the capabilities of the Blink Reflexometer™ to neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis (MS).

The present study was published in the journal Cogent Engineering.

Source: Medical University of South Carolina

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
APR 23, 2018
Cancer
APR 23, 2018
UroSEEK: Early Bladder and Urothelial Cancer Urine Screening Test Developed to Complement Urine Cytology
New, non-invasive urine screening test called UroSEEK was developed by Johns Hopkins to detect low grade bladder and urothelial cancers using DNA detection methods and technology....
APR 29, 2018
Genetics & Genomics
APR 29, 2018
CRISPR Can Now Edit Genes Outside of the Cell
The CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing tool was made from an immune defense system used by bacteria. Scientists have found it has many applications....
MAY 01, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
MAY 01, 2018
Ditching Mammograms for Dye-Based Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Move over, mammograms. University of Michigan scientists have a new solution for diagnosing breast cancer that’s possibly more accurate, less invasiv...
MAY 17, 2018
Immunology
MAY 17, 2018
Epigenetic Similarities Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Huntington's Disease
A detailed investigation into the epigenome of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients revealed unexpected similarities between RA and Huntington’s diseas...
JUN 08, 2018
Clinical & Molecular DX
JUN 08, 2018
Early Detection of Tooth Decay from Bacterial Invasion
We all get cavities, but have we ever thought much about the biology of the process? From the Akson Russian Science Communication Association, scientists i...
JUN 12, 2018
Immunology
JUN 12, 2018
Auto-antibody Detection for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients
No case of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune disease, is the same. Now, researchers want RA diagnostic approaches to match its pathological diversit...
Loading Comments...