Calgary researcher develops portable technology to evaluate brain damage post-concussion
The portable imaging system doesn't diagnose concussion, but uses light to detect and monitor the damage that has been done to someone's brain.
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Imagine being able to immediately assess the extent of the damage to an athlete's brain after a big hit, or tailor treatment for someone following a car accident based on how their brain is responding to different therapies.
The future might be closer than you think – a team of researchers with the University of Calgary's Experimental Imaging Centre (EIC) have developed a portable technology that can measure changes in brain function following a concussion, which can cause physiological impacts for months and even years post-injury.
The non-invasive device, called a Near-Infrared Spectroscopy, allows researchers to evaluate brain activity by measuring blood flow and oxygen levels as a marker of its function – indicators that have been proven to change post-concussion, and as a person recovers.
It doesn't diagnose concussion, but the device provides valuable insight about the damage that has been done.
"It's measuring something you could actually measure with MRI if you wanted to, but you could do it at a hockey rink or in a clinic or at the bottom of a ski hill – it's very portable, and not hard to collect the data," said Jeff Dunn, the EIC's executive director.
"Access to an MRI can be weeks. This would be a way to give someone more immediate information."
Although often associated with sports, thousands of Canadians are affected by concussion every year because of a fall, car collision, or other injury that caused the brain to shake.
To use the device, a patient is fitted with a cap containing small lights that act as sensors and transmit information to a computer for researchers to examine, Dunn explained.
His team recently received a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to study the technology over the next five years in partnership with Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Children's Hospital.
By using the device to study concussion in children, they will try to find out if an early and acute assessment of the injury can help predict a patient's outcome, and aid physicians in treating them.
"At the end of it, we should be able to say 'okay, if this happens in the brain that we detect, this is how it relates to your symptoms and your function,'" Dunn said. "It will give the clinician more information about how to manage that individual and the injury itself."