Medical Students Developing Smart Helmet for Concussion Diagnosis

September 14, 2016


If you think the ability to make a major contribution to medical progress requires years of professional practice, think again. A group of medical students at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso are working to develop an innovative technology that could significantly improve the way doctors diagnose concussions.

Dubbed Minus Tau (for the protein that forms in the brain when someone experiences a concussion or other form of brain damage), the project is a smart helmet that assists in more accurate diagnoses of concussions, particularly in athletes. Currently, scientists don’t know the exact amount or type of force that will unequivocally result in a concussion. But recent research shows that a combination of data from a blow to the head can help better inform doctors. To that end, the Minus Tau helmet, via a series of electronic sensors, will measure and record rotational acceleration, linear force or acceleration, duration of impact and location of impact. Together, these measurements will provide a full medical assessment, allowing for more accurate and thorough diagnoses and more effective treatment plans.

“Concussions that go undiagnosed are a huge health problem, especially for football players,” says second-year medical student Derrick Oaxaca. “It is very common for athletes to remain in the game after experiencing concussion-like symptoms, receiving more impacts to the head — and that is when the brain becomes significantly damaged.”

Returning to the playing field before fully healing after a concussion can have devastating results, including permanent brain damage or even death. Long term, repetitive head injuries may cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition tied to dementia, suicide and depression. With the Minus Tau helmet, however, team doctors, coaches or other officials will be alerted to the existence of a concussion and immediately know when it’s time to take a player off the field. For youth or teen athletes, the helmet also can send a smartphone notification to parents or guardians, letting them know that a trip to the doctor’s office is in order.

The group’s work has landed the students spots as semi-finalists in the Space Race, an international start-up competition hosted by NASA and the Center for Advancing Innovation. But the far more important goal is to see the helmets mass produced and sold in athletic stores or directly to athletic programs including high school, collegiate and community sports teams.

We here at St. Augustine’s WOLFPACC love to see medical students engaging in truly innovative work. That’s why we developed our own innovative approach to studying and practicing medicine. To find out how we can help boost your chances of success in medical school and a healthcare career, call 904-209-3140 and speak with an enrollment specialist today.