Indianapolis company aims to help parents, trainers diagnose concussions in seconds

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- It's a hot debate in households these days: Will you let your kids play contact sports?  As doctors learn more about concussions, the risk of dangerous sports may be becoming too great for some parents.  A local company is working to give parents and physicians a way to test for concussions right from the palm of their hand.

“Eighty-four percent of concussions go undiagnosed every year," said Brightlamp CEO Kurtis Sluss. "CDC calls it a silent epidemic.”

Brightlamp is an Indy-based company that is on the cusp of rolling out new concussion technology.  When a player is suspected of having a concussion, trainers begin by asking a series of questions like, “Do you know where you are? Do you know who you are?" They are looking for cognitive function, emotional function, and physical function.  Along with the verbal questionnaire, the trainer may flash a light in his or her eye to check their pupils for dilation.  This is where Brightlamp got their inspiration for the app.  Sluss and his team said the initial concussion questions aren't always an accurate indicator.

“Recent publications show they are 50% accurate,” Sluss said.

“You can’t trick it and say your pupil is not going to restrict to the degree that it does. It just happens," said Brightlamp CFO Mike Heims.

Enter Reflex, Brightlamps concussion app.  Users raise a cell phone to the players eyes.  The app flashes the phone's light, and takes a five second video.  It is sent back to the Brightlamp servers for analysis.

“The iris constricts, and then redilates because of a flash of light,” Sluss explained.

The program is looking for pupil dilation speeds.  A person with a concussion will have slower reactions, and less dilation.

“This would be much bigger for a person who’s concussed,” said Brightlamp Chief Science Officer Ramya Rao pointing to an eye pupil on her screen.

Their program can relay this info back to the app in seconds, and it can even identify weak, less obvious concussions that may be hard to detect on field.

“Our target market is where this problem is rampant, with is high school athletics, middle school athletics," Sluss said.

Just this week, a Georgia teen died from a head injury on the field. Sixteen-year-old football player Dylan Thomas passed out while being evaluated on the sideline.  He fell off the bench, and when he woke up, he said, "I can’t feel my body."

“The common misconception is that it’s one hit and you got a concussion," Sluss said. "That is not the case."

Game footage showed no key impact or trigger hit.

“I think it can be a series of tiny hits that leads to overall cognitive decline,” said Dr. Jeffrey Raskin, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Riley Children's Hospital.

Dr. Raskin played football in high school and at Pomono College in California.  He suffered his own concussion in high school.

“Running through the line getting hit by a line backer, knocked out cold,” Dr. Raskin described. “Cognitive clouding, memory problems, emotional ability, never any physical problems.”

He calls Reflex a fancy pupilometer, and a good screening tool, but questions its ability to diagnose.

“To use it exclusively, you’d have to make sure the data that is created upon is vigorously tested,” Dr. Raskin said.

Sluss said Reflex is currently going through a clinical validation period at Indiana University Health, which is part of the process for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval that will let the app deliver a diagnosis to consumers. However in a month, another version of the app will be available for physicians to download. This other version of the app works as a tool for doctors to make their own diagnosis.

“We want to put health care in the hands of everyday people,” Heims said.

The consumer version of the app is likely a year and a half away from hitting the App Store for iPhone users.  The company is still working on pricing, but they expect it to be subscription based.