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Neuro Kinetics of O'Hara, partners win $500K concussion grant from NFL

| Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, 10:00 a.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
J. Howison Schroeder, CEO of Neuro Kinetics, tries on one of its testing units at its facility in O’Hara. Neuro Kinetics is a leader in an eye-tracking technology that is giving medical professionals a new way to detect, diagnose and treat mild traumatic brain injuries, known as concussions, and more than 200 diseases and medical conditions.

A $500,000 award from the National Football League will be used by Neuro Kinetics Inc. of O'Hara to speed development of goggles that detect concussions.

Neuro Kinetics hopes to obtain Food and Drug Administration clearance as early as mid-2017 to use its portable goggles and a larger model for hospitals, CEO Howison Schroeder said Thursday.

The award, which was a joint grant to the company and the University of Miami School of Medicine, was one of seven given by the NFL, sports equipment maker Under Armour and General Electric Co. under an initiative to accelerate brain injury research, diagnosis and protection. The winners were chosen from nearly 500 proposals and qualify for another $1 million, depending on advancements and potential to introduce a commercial product.

There is no medically accepted way to conclusively diagnose a concussion, experts say. Neuro Kinetics' technology measures eye movement to determine objectively whether someone has a concussion, the common name for a mild traumatic brain injury. Among those also looking for answers on concussions are professional and high school sports teams and the military.

In September, the NFL estimated that nearly three in 10 former players will develop debilitating brain conditions, and that they will be stricken earlier and at least twice as often as the general population. The league and players' lawyers released the data as part of their proposed $765 million settlement of thousands of concussion lawsuits.

The University of Miami's Michael Hoffer, a professor of otolaryngology, has worked with Neuro Kinetics to collect and interpret data. He recently retired from a 20-year career with the Navy, during which he began research into traumatic brain injuries.

“There's widespread awareness that concussions are a serious crisis for both our military personnel and athletes at every level of professional and school sports. It is urgent that we develop new and improved techniques for quick and accurate detection of potentially life-changing concussions,” Hoffer said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related concussions annually in the United States, although the true number is probably much higher, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Hoffer, Neuro Kinetics and Carey Balaban, a professor of otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will work together on research for the company's portable concussion detector. The device, which can be used at sports venues, features goggles with eye tracking and other technology to assess a person's condition.

One of the most important issues in treating concussions is initial diagnosis and determination of the right time to return to work or play, Schroeder said. Current methods use a battery of tests available at medical centers.

Hoffer will test Miami football and soccer players as part of the research, Schroeder said.

Neuro Kinetics and the Department of Defense are funding development of the larger model for use in hospitals. Last year, the company won a $2.4 million contract from the department to continue development and apply it to battlefield testing of combat brain injuries.

Neuro Kinetics is in FDA phase one trials for the portable unit, and phase two trials for the larger model, Schroeder said. Successful phase three trials would yield FDA clearance for use to diagnose concussions, he said.

“We are looking for first FDA clearance in mid-2017,” he said.

Neuro Kinetics, which has been working on eye movement science since 1984, developed technology to collect information from the eye, under the premise that “the eye is the portal to the brain,” Schroeder said. The company has FDA approval to diagnose balance disorders.

For concussion testing, the company has been collecting data from local high school football players, a Pittsburgh area hospital and soldiers at various locations.

“We are honored to continue our work with Dr. Hoffer and to add Dr. Balaban and their colleagues in Miami and Pittsburgh to our mix,” Schroeder said. “We believe our I-Portal technology shows great potential for developing a much-needed practical, objective and readily deployable new diagnostic tool that can have widespread application.”

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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