brainscope headsetBrainScope

Super Bowl 50 is here, which means athletes will be trying harder than ever to deliver big hits.

A new medical device designed to identify traumatic brain injury (TBI) might not be far behind.

BrainScope is a one-two punch headset and mobile app that claims to quickly and easily allow clinicians to determine whether patients have sustained a TBI.

It follows a growing body of research that tries to understand what head injuries look like and, more importantly, what clinicians can do about them so people stay safe.

Michael Singer, BrainScope's CEO, says many of the current techniques for evaluating someone's level of injury are flawed because they rely solely on symptoms.

If someone sustains a nasty hit, for example, they may complain about head pain — or they might not.

In the NFL, athletes are only required to take a baseline exam at the beginning of the season, called the ImPACT test. If they suffer a head injury, they take the test again to check for any fall off in their score. But even this standardized test has been found to yield false positives.

BrainScope cuts through that unreliable self-reported data to see what's really going on, Singer says.

"I think that's a sea change from where we are today," he tells Tech Insider.

BrainScopeBrainScope

BrainScope works by measuring specific patterns of electrical activity in the brain via electroencephalogram (EEG).

Basically, when the activity picked up by BrainScope deviates from the normal patterns seen in typical scans, those differences show up in the corresponding app. Singer claims physicians can see how likely it is the patient is experiencing internal bleeding or will experience it based on the severity of the injury.

The entire exam takes roughly five minutes, Singer says. He also said that the beauty of using big data is that the company's algorithms will improve as more patterns enter the system.

BrainScope is still awaiting FDA approval, which Singer says could arrive later this year. BrainScope's ultimate vision is to be the go-to device for immediate assessment of brain injury. But the company first has to prove to regulators that the device actually does what it's designed to do.

In the US alone, approximately 1.7 million people sustain a TBI every year, and 52,000 of them die.

Most TBIs are concussions, while those that lead to death involve a condition known as diffuse axonal injury (DAI). Like concussions, DAIs result from heavy force causing the brain to slam into the inner walls of the skull.

In addition to these immediate injuries, there has been growing attention over the last decade toward longer-term damage. These tend to result from repeated "sub-concussive" hits — the kind players might receive in practice — rather than the catastrophic blows that give football both its appeal and notoriety.

These diseases are more insidious than concussions because they form gradually over time. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), for example, can't be diagnosed until after death.

While BrainScope and its ilk can't readily predict these longer-term injuries, they do seem to fit into the overall TBI landscape.

Ideally, people would make big decisions like whether to retire from a sport or pursue a particular treatment based on information about what's happening (and will eventually happen) in their brains. The current technology just isn't that sophisticated.

What BrainScope says it offers is something of a middle ground — a way to act with some information rather than none, even if it's not perfect in determining risks over time.

"That by its very nature," Singer claims, "will reduce the incidence rates of some of these dreaded diseases that come from multiple hits because there wasn't an appropriate and timely diagnosis."