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Tracking Small Eye Movements Can Help Diagnose Concussions, Study Finds

John Minchillo
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown suffered a concussion during a wildcard game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 10, 2016.

Diagnosing concussions could become easier with technology that tracks minute eye movements, according to a study by Allegheny Health Network.

Researchers used a technology called I-Portal VNG, which stands for video nystagmography, created by Pittsburgh-based Neuro Kinetics. More than 200 high school athletes participated in the study, 50 of whom were concussed.

AHN neurologist Kevin Kelly said the researchers used special goggles that track eye movement.

"And the goggles actually have cameras in them," Kelly said. "So they're able to look right at the eye and track the eye as it is presented different stimuli."

One eye movement that helped determine if someone was concussed is called smooth pursuits.

"Basically, you're asked to look at a dot that would go across the screen and your eyes should follow very smoothly back and forth," Kelly said. "A brain that has been injured by concussion doesn't do that so smoothly."

Kelly said historically, diagnosing concussions has been very subjective. Physicians must make their assessments based on how they interpret brain scans and patients' self-reported symptoms, neither of which are consistenly accurate markers for concussion.

Kelly said the study showed the I-Portal VNG reliably determines if a patient is concussed and could be used to track a patient's progress during subsequent appointments. He said the noninvasive, portable nature of the technology could also increase its popularity. 

"And by that I mean it could be used in emergency rooms, in sports venues, it could actually be used on a playing field," Kelly said. "It's very adaptable."

The I-Portal VNG won't replace physicians in treating concussions, but Kelly said it could be a valuable tool for concussion diagnosis and treatment.

WESA receives funding from AHN.