One of the biggest hurdles in properly diagnosing athletes with brain injuries is the desire to outsmart tests or avoid detection in order to stay in the game. However, a physician from the University of Miami believes he has found a reliable method of diagnosing concussions and traumatic brain injuries whether the athletes want it or not.
Michael Hoffer, an otolaryngologist at the university’s Miller School of Medicine, has been awarded $500,000 by the NFL, Under Armour, and GE for the “concussion goggles” he has developed while serving as a U.S. Navy Captain stationed in San Diego.The grant is part of a $60 million research effort by the NFL and its partners to prevent, measure, and detect brain injuries.
The goggles were tested in San Diego and during two tours of duty in Iraq, and with the recent grant he plans to field test them.
“Knowing they work in the lab is great. But making sure they work well… near the playing field is a critical step,” said Hoffer, who retired from the U.S. Army in September.
The goggles are designed to detect brain injuries by measuring balance and eye movement. Hoffer has studied over 4,000 soldiers with brain injuries and found that the most common issue with issuing a diagnosis was the lack of objective tests. He saw that dizziness was one of the most common symptoms, but asking injured individuals to gauge their balance can be more troublesome.
“The problem with a head injury is people want to pretend they don’t have one,” he said.
By partnering with Neuro Kinetics, Hoffer and colleagues were able to develop an early version of the system which strapped individuals into a chair and ran about 40 different tests including filming eye movement. While the device was highly reliable, it also faced the problem of being entirely immobile. Rather than giving up, Hoffer worked to cut redundant tests and ensure a handful of important tests were able to be contained in a set of portable goggles.
In addition to using UM athletes, Hoffer expects to expand testing to other teams in the university’s Southeastern Conference. The goggles will also be field-tested on soldiers in California and Texas. Whether the goggles turn up on the sidelines or are used in the locker room will be up to coaches, he said.