Mobile app uses lights, camera to detect brain injury in real-time

Researchers from the University of Washington have begun development on a smartphone application that uses the camera to assess concussions and other brain injuries in real-time. Outlined in a paper set to be presented at Ubicomp 2017, the app hopes to provide an effective tool in protecting patients from further injury.

The PupilScreen app aims to fill the gap in tools that accurately detect the occurrence of a concussion or brain injury in real-time by examining a user's pupillary light reflex. The app uses the flash on the smartphone to stimulate the patient’s eyes while the camera records a three-second video. Deep learning algorithms then analyze changes in the pupil to assess the patient’s condition.

"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 & Engineering and of Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington. "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."

A pilot study on the app enrolled 48 participants, some with a traumatic brain injury and some healthy individuals. The app was capable of diagnosing brain injuries. Researchers hope the app will be available for launch in the next two years.

"PupilScreen aims to fill that gap by giving us the first capability to measure an objective biomarker of concussion in the field," said co-author Lynn McGrath, MD, a resident physician in UW Medicine's Department of Neurological Surgery. "After further testing, we think this device will empower everyone from little league coaches to NFL doctors to emergency department physicians to rapidly detect and triage head injury."