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Device seeks to detect concussions during games

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- In Hawaii's opening game of the college football season, running back Nate Ilaoa was knocked out of the game in the second quarter.

Like many football players with an injury he wanted to resume playing. But he had a concussion and was in no condition to go back into the game.

"He tried to come back in, but his head hurt way too much," quarterback Colt Brennan told The Honolulu Advertiser. "He came into the locker room and he threw up. He was hurt, and he still is hurt."

According to an injury report compiled by The Sports Network, at least 13 players in Division I had concussions on the opening weekend of the season. Three other players had already been benched because of injuries from training camp.

Concussions in collegiate sports aren't what caught the attention of Dr. David Wright, a researcher at Emory University in Atlanta. He was more interested in the situation on the sidelines of a typical Friday night high school football game. Concussions in football, and sports in general, are a relatively common injury.

"There's 1.2 million concussions [in this country] every year, and the problem is they are very difficult to diagnose," Wright said.

Wright and Michelle LaPlaca, an associate professor at Georgia Tech, are trying to make it easier to detect possible concussions.

They are working on a device that could be used on the sidelines of a football game or in the locker room.

It's called DETECT -- Display Enhanced Testing for Cognitive Impairment and Traumatic Brain Injury -- and the device can give results in about seven minutes. LaPlaca said DETECT is still in the research phase.

"We want to make it widely available as soon as we can, but we do need to validate it and go through the proper steps in order to do that," she said.

"All the preliminary results that have come in, in terms of feasibility and sensibility, have been very positive."

Better potential for 'quantifiable' results

LaPlaca said the advantage of DETECT over a trainer's questions to a shaken player on the sidelines is the machine's quantitative ability. A trainer can assess confusion and memory problems, but DETECT takes response times and compares them with ones recorded when the player was alert, LaPlaca said.

"It is more quantifiable," she said.

The potential benefits are tremendous.

Government statistics show that emergency rooms in the United States treated more than 300,000 sports-related head injuries in 2005. About 10 percent occurred in football games.

But the number of such injuries may actually have been much higher. Many of the victims probably were not counted because they were treated at physicians' offices or immediate care centers, if they were treated at all.

"You can imagine on the sidelines during a game when there is a crowd behind you, important plays coming up, and players and coaches running around, [under those conditions] it's very difficult to really pick out if a player had a concussion," Wright said.

Players "are often very reluctant to tell you that they're [hurt] because they want to go back in the game," he said.

A second concussion on top of an already existing one can be very serious.

"Yet if they go back in the game and get injured again after having an original concussion, it can actually be lethal."

A player "can develop brain swelling and die within 6 to 12 hours," he said.

Wright said that in the past 15 to 20 years there have been about 50 deaths in football from brain trauma. None of those deaths happened to players in the National Football League.

Wright said that's because the degree of treatment in the pros is a great deal better than on the high school and collegiate levels.

"In some instances, there's not a benefit of an athletic trainer or a team physician. They may be doing things like 'How many fingers [am I] holding up? What was the last play? Who's the president?' That's really not adequate," he said.

Exploring other realms

Wright and LaPlaca said DETECT may one day be used in other areas.

"We believe it can be used for early detection of Alzheimer's disease and [even to] diagnose battlefield [injuries]," he said.

The device should take two more years to research and modify before being sold to high school and college trainers, LaPlaca said.

The duo hopes the unit will retail for about $1,000 initially with a long-term goal of reducing that price by half.


The DETECT device can give results on concussions in about seven minutes.




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