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New Eye-Tracking Tech to Detect Concussions

In just over a year since its release, Eye-Sync’s eye tracking technology has become a trusted means of detecting concussions on the sidelines and in the clinic.

Developed by Dr. Jam Ghajar of SyncThink, a neurotechnology company now headquartered in Palo Alto, Eye-Sync is a portable concussion-tester that tracks eye movement to diagnose head injuries in 60 seconds – the duration of a medical timeout.

The ability to immediately detect head trauma, through objective metrics, is critical to player safety. With Eye-Sync, no longer is the decision to re-enter a game left to the player’s discretion.

“We have no historical reference to understand what the accumulation of those impacts are [to a disoriented player], the risk of those who have not been protected and left on the field with an impairment.” said Scott Anderson, the chief customer officer at SyncThink.

“What’s happened to them in terms of their ability to regain attention or optimize their brain’s performance to do their job on the field? What is the result of that impairment when you can’t reorient yourself properly?”

On SyncThink’s website, Dr. Ghajar explains that while watching an object a person can anticipate 2.5 seconds ahead. A concussion compromises that ability.

As such, Eye-Sync users follow a visual stimulus – a red dot moving in a circle – while the tracking cameras in the headset rate the user’s capacity to focus. The 15-second test is repeated twice before results are then shown on a screen, about the size of an iPad, and relayed to a clinician. From there the clinician reviews the report and looks for patterns to make a determination.

There are six subtypes of concussions but most can be diagnosed through tracking visual attention.

“We believe this ocular motor impairment, which is synonyms with disorientation, is the most critical and dangerous one,” Anderson said. “I think we’re a little bit ahead of the curve [in diagnosing concussions].

“But I think as the consumer space emerges, we’re going to see a lot more [virtual reality testing], and as it becomes ubiquitous socially, I think people will see the value.”

SyncThink, which owns 10 patents (Eye-Sync was the 10th), received a grant of nearly $30 million from the Department of Defense in 2016. Then interest in the product grew quickly.

Eye-Sync was deployed in research studies on the sidelines of four Pac 12 schools – Stanford was the first – and in 2017, SyncThink upgraded its hardware and began working with a global specialty biopharmaceutical company, Shire, to apply SyncThink’s technology to clinical models.

The goal is to continue expanding, Anderson said, and protect all who are exposed to concussions caused by impact. While he believes there’s opportunity in many areas of brain function – from ADHD to dementia – player safety remains the main focus.

“We’re talking about hockey, we’re talking about mixed martial arts,” Anderson said. “We’re talking internationally, rugby and soccer. There’s tremendous opportunity out there and really high demand.”

As Anderson has joked to Dr. Ghajar, the slogan for Eye-Sync should be, “Everywhere You Look.”

Zach Shapiro

Zach Shapiro

    Zach is a graduate of the University of Tampa and a former Buccaneers beat writer. He's currently a journalism grad student at the University of Maryland and grateful for the opportunity to contribute to MedTech Boston. New to a personal Twitter account, find him @shapzach

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