“There is no accepted diagnostic criteria for concussion. It’s an intuitive physician diagnosis and when you get right down to it,” says Ghajar, “we don’t really know what concussion is.” To tackle the diagnostic challenges he invented EYE-SYNC, a device that uses virtual reality to assesses abnormal eye movement, which is a common occurrence after a concussion. Read below how we can use Virtual Reality to Diagnose Concussions.
April 15, 2016
Written by: Eilene Zimmerman
Using Virtual Reality To Diagnose Concussions
Founder: Jam Ghajar
Launched: Founded in 2009 but its first product launched in February 2016
Employees: About 10 (excluding research partners)
The pitch: The NFL put concussions and brain trauma back into the headlines again when they acknowledged last month that repeated concussions on the football field are linked to a degenerative condition known as CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. But traumatic brain injury has been in the news since the start of the Iraq war, when many soldiers experienced traumatic head injuries. Treating concussion is one thing, but if you can’t diagnose it, you can’t treat it. And concussions are very difficult to diagnose, says neurosurgeon Jam Ghajar, a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Stanford and founder and director of its Concussion and Brain Performance Center. He is also the founder of the Brain Trauma Foundation.
“A lot of times after a car accident someone will get a CT scan and if it doesn’t show any bleeding, they let them go,” says Ghajar. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a concussion—many patients, as well as athletes and those in the military may not appear to have a concussion but they do, he says. “We are sending people out with impaired attention, to drive cars, play sports, or back to active duty.” On the other hand, we’re also diagnosing concussion where none exists. “If someone comes in with a headache and a head injury, they will generally call that concussion,” he says. “But a head ache is not a brain ache.
Almost all brain injuries are to the front of the brain, says Ghajar, where executive function is located. Thats’s the part of the brain responsible for predicting and anticipating—what we think of as “paying attention.” And it is affected when there is a concussion, but it’s very hard to pick up on typical diagnostic tests like a CT scan or an MRI.
“There is no accepted diagnostic criteria for concussion. It’s an intuitive physician diagnosis and when you get right down to it,” says Ghajar, “we don’t really know what concussion is.” To tackle the diagnostic challenges he invented EYE-SYNC, a device that uses virtual reality to assesses abnormal eye movement, which is a common occurrence after a concussion.
How it works: If you were watching a moving dot, your eyes would jump ahead to where you anticipated the dot would be next. You can anticipate 2.5 seconds into the future, says Ghajar. With concussion, that ability to predict and anticipate is compromised. EYE-SYNC can check to see if that ability has been affected after head trauma. It’s a portable pair of virtual reality goggles with eye trackers built into them. They can be used anywhere—on a football field, battlefield, work site. The user puts on the goggles and does a 30-second eye tracking test; it takes just a minute to see the results.
Funding and revenue: The Department of Defense has funded SyncThink and its partner, the Brain Trauma Foundation, with about $30 million for the technology and clinical trials, one of which is finishing up now, involving 10,000 people. Ongoing revenue is generated from monthly licensing fees for the software that powers EYE-SYNC. Depending on use, fees range from a few hundred a month to a few thousand.
Traction: The EYE-SYNC device received FDA approval in February. The market is potentially huge, because most states have some legislation governing school athletics and head injuries as well as the protocol to follow if a child is suspected of having a concussion–usually requiring they be seen by a doctor before being sent back into play. The market for EYE-SYNC is “anyone,” says Ghajar, but likely athletic directors, team doctors, hospitals and the military. Stanford football’s team used the device this past season.
In the two months it’s been available for sale “hundreds” have been sold and deployed, says Ghajar. The company is in contact with many NCAA schools, the NFL Players Association as well as rehabilitation and concussion clinics.
The EYE-SYNC isn’t cheap—last year the googles and software cost about $25,000—but Ghajar says cost now varies by the number of users, from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per month. “The problem for us is that we’re really a software company and the hardware is expensive,” he says.