Grant From NFL, Under Armour, and GE Will Aid Research on Diagnosing Concussions

Issue Date: 
January 12, 2015

“One of the hardest things about mild concussions is that it is difficult to document them accurately and objectively,” says Carey Balaban, professor of otolaryngology and neurobiology in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Carey Balaban

Balaban, thanks to a one-year $500,000 grant from the National Football League, Under Armour, and GE Ventures, will contribute to research aimed at detecting and treating concussions, whether the injury is sustained on the football field or the battlefield. The grant—which was given to Pitt, the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and Pittsburgh-based Neuro Kinetics Inc.—will help the parties further validate the effectiveness and accuracy of a device called I-Portal. 

Developed by Neuro Kinetics, I-Portal can be worn like ski goggles and is used to measure voluntary and balance-related eye movements against control data. The device’s portability, Balaban says, will allow concussion testing to be done in the locker room rather than at a medical center. In addition, I-Portal will provide a much more precise and objective diagnosis than one derived by a team physician on the sideline simply observing an injured player. 

Balaban’s primary role in the collaborative research will be analyzing data generated by the University of Miami as its researchers test I-Portal on volunteers.

“The device measures eye movement dynamics and balance, and has proven, thus far, to be very effective in diagnosing concussion,” says Balaban, Pitt’s vice provost for faculty affairs who also holds appointments as a professor of bioengineering and of communication science and disorders. “It compares eye movement trajectories to established norms and can pick out features that are clearly abnormal and indicative of concussion. This grant will allow us to refine our test protocols, validate findings immediately after concussion, follow clinical improvement, and roll the tests out into the athlete population.”

In addition to being quite portable, Balaban adds, I-Portal will likely be relatively inexpensive in comparison with other medical devices, and, therefore, might even be used for high school athletes. 

Based on the researchers’ progress during the one-year grant, Balaban and the team could receive an additional $1 million to continue their work.