A new test using ultrasound waves to diagnose concussions may soon make it easier and cheaper to accurately evaluate brain injuries immediately after they happen, according to research presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 68th Annual Meeting this month.
The researchers from Neural Analytics have designed a portable helmet capable of quickly and accurately detecting concussions using an advanced form of ultrasound called transcranial Doppler (TCD). According to their research, the helmets are able to differentiate between a person with traumatic brain injury and a healthy person with 83 percent accuracy.
“What TCD does is measure blood flow velocity in the major arteries of the brain,” Dr. Robert Hamilton, the study’s lead author and co-founder of Neural Analytics, told Medical Daily. “Unfortunately, all doctors look at [currently] is just one variable of that signal — how fast the blood flow is moving, for example. If you actually look at the signal, it’s very complex and they essentially ignore a tremendous amount of information in that signal. Our machine learning platform captures subtle variations in blood flow that allow us to make more accurate diagnoses of neurological conditions.”
TCD was developed in the mid-1980’s, but it has been largely looked over as it has been relatively imprecise compared to other types of brain scans. Hamilton and his team say their TCD device is more accurate than past forms of TCD.
To put this to the test, the team of researchers recruited 66 high school participants with a diagnosed concussion within the past 12 days and compared them to 169 healthy, similarly aged athletes. The concussion group was exclusively comprised of athletes who played contact sports, however, some members of the control group participated in non-contact sports.
According to the results, the new application of TCP imaging is significantly more accurate than conventional TCD devices, which were only accurate slightly more than half the time.
“This research suggests that this advanced form of ultrasound may provide a more accurate diagnosis of concussion,” said Hamilton. “While more research is needed, the hope is such a tool could one day be used on the sidelines to help determine more quickly whether an athlete needs further testing.”
While the advanced TCD is more accurate than past versions of this type of imaging, the reason TCD may be more attractive than other types of imaging is cost. The TCD helmets designed by the team would be significantly more affordable than traditional imaging devices used to monitor brain injuries. The helmets are also much more transportable.
This advanced form of TCD is the centerpiece of Neural Analytics’ MIND project. Many of the company’s original members met while working in UCLA’s Department of Neurology. Since its founding in 2013, the company has partnered with numerous public and private organizations including UCLA, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Sciences Foundation.