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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Smartphone camera flash could help diagnose concussion 

Research at University of Washington is underway on latest test to help diagnose brain injuries on the sidelines  

Tim Fletcher is his playing days for the UAE. “We are still learning about the long term damage of concussions and head injuries,” said the former UAE fullback, who now works in physiotherapy. Mike Young / The National
Tim Fletcher is his playing days for the UAE. “We are still learning about the long term damage of concussions and head injuries,” said the former UAE fullback, who now works in physiotherapy. Mike Young / The National

Smartphones could be the latest easy access device used to help amateur rugby coaches diagnose a concussion injury on the sidelines.

Coaches and former players in the UAE have already spoken out in support of a new saliva test which is being looked at in the UK by the University of Birmingham to help make the game safer.

Now that's been followed by another tool to help diagnose a potentially serious head injury.

PupilScreen is a mobile phone app being developed by researchers at the University of Washington, and makes a player assessment using a phone's video camera to detect changes in the eye, such as the pupil’s response to light.

The flash stimulates the eye and a 3-second video is recorded.

Deep learning algorithms then process that video to measure the changes in pupil size across each video frame.

“Having an objective measure that a coach or parent or anyone on the sidelines of a game could use to screen for concussion would truly be a game-changer,” said Shwetak Patel, the Washington Research Foundation Endowed Professor of Computer Science and Engineering.

“Right now the best screening protocols we have are still subjective, and a player who really wants to get back on the field can find ways to game the system.”

Researchers have said they were able to diagnose the brain injuries with almost perfect accuracy using the app’s output alone.

A penlight test into a patient’s eyes has been commonly used by medics to assess severe forms of brain injury.

Further research has suggested subtler changes in pupil response can be useful in detecting milder concussions that could result in a player being withdrawn from play in order to stop further damage.

“We are still learning about the long term damage of concussions and head injuries,” said former UAE fullback Tim Fletcher, who now runs BounceBack Physiotherapy and provides medical services for Abu Dhabi Saracens.

“It can be catastrophic and the health of the player is the most important thing.

“Early onset of Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss and agitation leading to social and relationship problems are all symptoms of untreated or undiagnosed concussion injuries.”

Researchers at the University of Washington are now training their machine learning neural network to produce similar results using just the smart phone camera, rather than a 3D printed box that was used with PupilScreen during testing.

Work is continuing at the university to potentially make the programme widely available on all smartphones.

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Read more:

New saliva test could identify concussions in sport quickly

Concussion in rugby: Stephen Hamilton to defy medical advice and play on in pursuit of playing for UAE

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