Uzma Samadani, MD, is reporting success with a precise way to diagnose concussions by tracking eye movements of patients watching music videos. Despite a sharp increase in sports-related head injuries, with current methods, many traumatic brain injuries can’t be diagnosed until weeks after the injuries occur. This makes it hard to determine whether or when athletes can return to play.
When healthy people watched music videos, such as Shakira’s “Waka Waka” from Disney’s “The Lion King”, their eyes tended to stay in synch. The synchronicity was lacking in people with concussions. Tested on 225 people, the eye tracking system correctly identified seven out of eight patients who had confirmed concussions, according to results published in the online journal, Concussion.
“An 88 percent accuracy rate is superior to many commonly used screening tests”, said Dr. Samadani, lead author of the research. “Our goal is that concussion becomes as detectable and measurable as kidney malfunction or heart disease. Eye tracking assesses brain function in a way that is objective and quantifiable.”
More awareness of the potential damage that can be caused by brain injuries and concern for children involved in youth sports has spurred the search for better ways to identify whether a hit on the head has caused any damage. Minnesota has passed laws clarifying when an athlete should be removed from play but it continues to be difficult to know for sure when a player should be benched.
Some of the tests currently in the field rely on athletes taking a baseline test and comparing the results. This is useless on the field because it requires a quiet room, a computer and an athlete that has already taken the test. Another test uses a flip chart of numbers that athletes must read quickly and in sequence. This also requires a baseline test.
While Dr. Samadani’s test does have sophisticated eye tracking technology that would be done in a clinic, it does not require a baseline test, nor does the patient have to be able to read. It can also detect damage to the brain in less than 220 seconds.
“Our goal is quick, accurate detection and classification of brain injury so that we can test and develop therapeutics for concussion. Treatment is the ultimate objective.”