Inside the head game: Washburn among first with new BrainScope device

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - It's estimated every 23 seconds, someone suffers a traumatic brain injury. younger student athletes may be at particular risk for long-term damage.

The BrainScope One aims to change that.

"It's somewhat similar to an EEG that you may see with folks with seizures or prior stroke," explained Dr. Ryan Tomlins with Cotton O'Neil Sports Medicine.

The company BrainScope partnered with the military on a tool to give a quick way to assess a brain injury, right on the sidelines.

In January, the athletic training staff at Washburn University and their partners with Cotton O'Neil and Stormont Vail were training on the BrainScope.

WU Athletic Trainer Kyle Allen was looking forward to implementing its use in their programs.

"Concussions are based on a lot of subjective data, so this helps give us a lot more objective data to help assess concussion, assess structural data," he said.

Washburn is among the first colleges in the nation to have the BrainScope One, alongside larger athletic programs like Texas and Syracuse. A BrainScope representative said Washburn is among a very few Divison II level schools to have it.

When a head injury is suspected, a trainer attaches sensors to the athlete, right on the sidelines. Minutes later, a smart phone outfitted with special software issues a report looking at two areas - concussion and structural injury.

For concussions, Tomlins said the key question is whether the brain is functioning at a level that it normally would. BrainScope One will compare data from a patient to a person of similar age to see how far apart their function might be.

BrainScope One also can spot structural changes like bleeding on the brain which can be fatal if not caught.

"Concussions we can deal with, but when dealing with a life and death situation - structural injury - that's the big thing we're trying to figure out with this test," Tomlins said. "Those kids that are kind of in the gray area - if they're obviously concussed, we're monitoring them - if they start to go downhill, we can utilize this technology to maybe assess for that structural injury, the declining function, and get them to the ER quicker."

Having concrete data can be a bonus in convincing a young athlete they need treatment.

"With how much you hear about concussions in the media and everything, that tide is starting to turn where the athletes really are starting to take their own health into accountability a lot more," Allen said. "But it's still very difficult to tell a competitive athlete you have to sit out, you can't really do anything, that you gotta just shut it down. It does help a whole lot more to be able to tell them, 'This is where you're rating at, this is where you fall on the scale,' more so than just saying, 'How do you feel?'"

Allen and Tomlins stress BrainScope One does not replace a CT scan for definitive diagnosis and treatment, but they believe it will be a valuable tool for ensuring young athletes get the right treatment, as soon as possible.

"The biggest thing when you're dealing with life and death situations, you want to be making the right decision," Tomlins said.

BrainScope One earned FDA approval in fall 2017, and hit the market in January. It is currently approved only for adults, so it's not yet available for high-school aged athletes.

Washburn will start using the device immediately, with full implementation for the fall football and soccer seasons - the sports where they see the most concussions.