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Testing A New Device To Diagnose Concussions

UT Dallas

The concussion crisis has sent shock waves through the football world from the NFL all the way down to pee-wee leagues. A researcher at UT Dallas has developed a device to measure the force of hits and determine whether there’s been a brain injury.

As part of KERA’s Breakthroughs series, Lauren Silverman talks with the director of the Texas Biomedical Device Center at the University of Texas Dallas, who is testing a new device to better detect concussions, and hopefully prevent brain injuries on the field.

There are already several devices on the market that measure impact from a head-to-head collision. One from Reebok, and  another from X2 Biosystems. The problem with these, Dr. Rennaker says, is that they measure impact, but not brain, or nuerological injury.

Credit UT Dallas
This sensor, developed at the Texas Biomedical Device Center, is designed to indicate whether an athlete needs a neurological test tot determine brain injury.

That’s why Rennaker, who’s director of UTD’s Texas Biomedical Device Center has built another device called Neurotriage. This high-tech pair of goggles performs a quick baseline test for athletes and then follow up tests after an impact.

“We’re trying to provide quantitative data to allow people to make informed decisions about their health care choices,” Rennaker says.

The Gear

Athletes wear the rubber accelerometer on the head, Rennaker explains, and a trainer can look at the accelerometer to see whether they’ve taken a hit above a certain threshold. If the accelerometer blinks red, they’ll put on the neurotriage system  — which looks a bit like google glass — and run a three minute test.

The test plays a series of stimuli to the visual system, focusing on biomarkers thought to indicate neurological damage such as pupil dilation and fast eye movement, or saccades.

“Hopefully, Rennaker says, ” Those biomarkers will allow us to predict chronic neurological outcome.”

Who’s Trying It Out?

For the upcoming season, Dr. Rennaker is working with the University of Iowa’s football team as well as a handful of high school teams in Dallas to test the device.

Credit UT Dallas
The rubber accelerometer attaches to the back of the neck and the forehead to measure rapid neck and brain movements.

Both the goggles and the accelerometer will be sent to a national lab for testing in April, and the goal is to have the devices on the market by fall of 2016.


Until devices like the one Dr. Rennaker is developing are proven to work, parents may be wondering what they should do if their kid takes a hit.

“Caution,” according to Rennaker. “You only have one brain.”

These goggles perform a neurological test on athletes that can serve as a baseline check to measure brain injury.

“Your brain is who you are,” he says, “When it’s injured, it does things that you can’t predict. Chronic pain, phantom limb pain, tinnitus, there’s a bunch of things that can happen following a brain injury.”

So, if your kid can’t play football for a week, Rennaker says that’s okay, “it’s more important that you protect your child than put them back in there not knowing.”

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.