In recent years, concussions from high-impact sports like football have garnered significant media attention as research surfaced the long-term effects of repeated head trauma.
Though dozens of cases have suggested that concussions are linked with lasting repercussions on mental health and intellectual functioning, up until quite recently, most physicians relied on “the equivalent of a sobriety test” to determine whether an athlete had a concussion, said Daniel Beeler, CTO of SyncThink.
“It’s largely been up to the subjective opinion of the physician,” Beeler said.
Beeler’s startup SyncThink is searching for a better, more objective alternative.
Their working solution? Virtual reality.
Founded by Dr. Jamshid Ghajar, who heads the Stanford Concussion and Brain Performance center, SyncThink aims to discover concussions earlier and with more accuracy using a tool called EYE-SYNC.
This portable VR headset is outfitted with eye-tracking sensors to give athletes and other concussion-prone individuals like soldiers access to a quick field test for brain trauma.
“The system itself is very simple,” Beeler said. “The typical assessment is a target moving in a circle. The goal is not to confuse or stress the user, but to provide the most predictable environment possible. We see how well they synchronize with that predictable environment.”
In total, SyncThink’s concussion-testing tool takes just 60 seconds to diagnose a concussion. And if an individual has sustained brain trauma, EYE-SYNC can be used to track ongoing brain performance by monitoring patients’ visual attention in various training and environmental scenarios.
Since its 2008 founding, SyncThink has been used by more than 10,000 athletes from college football teams like Stanford University and the University of Notre Dame, as well as by soldiers in Afghanistan for rapid cognitive assessment.
“A concussion is a complex injury,” Beeler said. “There isn’t just one impairment that can happen — there can be brain injury, inner ear issues, spine and neck issues, and all produce symptoms that are complicated and can be mixed. Our goal is to provide the most objective assessment possible to target and narrow down the injury.”
In 2017, Beeler said SyncThink will continue working on adopting the latest VR technology available and expanding their client base outside of the military and top football programs, reaching areas like youth sports and hockey.
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