In a November 22 NFL game between the St. Louis Rams and the Baltimore Ravens, Rams quarterback Case Keenum was sacked in the fourth quarter and hit his head on the turf. Despite the Rams sending their head trainer on the field to talk with Keenum — and the presence of an NFL injury spotter — Keenum remained in the game. He was sacked again two plays later and fumbled the ball as the Rams went on to lose the contest. Only after the game was it found that Keenum had suffered a concussion.
Such situations could become a thing of the past if the research being conducted by Nicholas Port and Steven A. Hitzeman of comes to fruition. With grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Indiana Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Fund, they are developing a portable sideline device that will be able to quickly detect signs of mild brain trauma.
Since 2010, Port and Hitzeman, researchers at the IU School of Optometry, have gathered baseline data on the eye movements and balance of IU athletes and have since expanded their work to Bloomington North and South high schools and local club and youth sports.
To measure concussion symptoms, Port devised a system that consists of eye-tracking goggles within a shoebox-sized device and a balance platform based on technology in Nintendo’s Wii gaming system. By comparing an athlete’s baseline numbers with similar tests after a high-impact blow, athletic trainers can quickly determine whether the athlete suffered a concussion and should be withheld from competition. With the aid of the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp., such a device has considerable commercial potential as well.
So far, data on more than 1,000 athletes — as well as 69 concussions — has been collected, about two-thirds of which came from football. Although there is not yet enough information to produce statistically valid conclusions, Port said, the data indicates that “some ocular and motor performance can be severely impaired during the acute phase of a concussion, which is the first 10 minutes to an hour after a concussion occurs.”
Read more about Port and Hitzeman’s research here.