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"Field Test" -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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University of Washington researchers are developing the first smartphone app that is capable of objectively detecting concussion and other traumatic brain injuries in the field: on the sidelines of a sports game, on a battlefield or in the home of an elderly person prone to falls.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Heads up.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: pov: football player getting hit, heavy tackling sounds, crowd sound becomes muffled, slow motion disorientation. crowd fades back in to voice of trainer): "Do you know where you are? Can you touch your finger to your nose? Can you repeat the following words?"

With all the recent attention to concussions in both amateur and professional sports, brain injury assessments during a game are still -- subjective. Immediate objective assessments could keep players with concussions from going back out or let them (Sound effect: cheers) continue if there's no brain injury.

Now, University of Washington researchers are developing the first smartphone app capable of objectively detecting a concussion or other traumatic brain injury in the field. By "in the field," I mean on the field, at the workplace, in the home -- anywhere.

Their "Pupilscreen" app uses a smartphone's flash and video cam to record the "pupillary light reflex" -- the response of the pupils to light and quantifies and graphs changes in pupil size imperceptible to the human eye.

Accurate? In tests, it did almost as well as expensive hospital equipment at detecting significant traumatic brain injury. And the team is working to make it helpful in determining less obvious cases of concussion, too. Coaches, soldiers, first responders this could be one app we can really get our heads around.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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