Researchers in Michigan are using lasers to better detect concussions

The process of detecting a concussion feels more like a field sobriety check rather than a proper medical exam. What day is it? Where are you? Who is the president? Can you count backward from 100 by sevens? These are the type of questions that are supposed to determine whether you have a concussion, and if you manage to answer those questions correctly, then voi-la, you are not concussed.

It seems a bit rudimentary in this day and age. That’s why researchers at the University of Michigan are attempting to build a device to change that—using lasers.

Various molecules in the body absorb different amounts of certain wavelengths of light. If you shoot light into the body and know what to look for, you can take measurements of the molecule in question. The researchers are looking for one of those signature signals by firing concentrated infrared lasers into the brain and measuring the reaction of a molecule called cytochrome C oxidase (CCO). CCO is a rough indicator of a cell’s metabolism, how well it is using its oxygen. If CCO levels are low, it can be a sign of cells in distress.

Using the same attention tasks as in concussion tests, one can establish a baseline for CCO when the CCO is being used — you’re thinking hard — and when it is not. The hypothesis is that if you can measure a CCO deficit in the brain, suggesting cells in distress, it can act as an objective first-line concussion test. The endgame would be a portable device, deployable on sidelines, battlefields, emergency rooms, and anywhere else people may need to get assessed after getting their bells rung.

While this will require some time before it becomes a functional device that can be produced on a mass scale, it does represent a promising step away from the rudimentary technique we currently use for detecting concussions.

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Researchers in Michigan are using lasers to better detect concussions

The process of detecting a concussion feels more like a field sobriety check rather than a proper medical exam. What day is it? Where are you? Who is the president? Can you count backward from 100 by sevens? These are the type of questions that are supposed to determine whether you have a concussion, and if you manage to answer those questions correctly, then voi-la, you are not concussed.

It seems a bit rudimentary in this day and age. That’s why researchers at the University of Michigan are attempting to build a device to change that—using lasers.

Various molecules in the body absorb different amounts of certain wavelengths of light. If you shoot light into the body and know what to look for, you can take measurements of the molecule in question. The researchers are looking for one of those signature signals by firing concentrated infrared lasers into the brain and measuring the reaction of a molecule called cytochrome C oxidase (CCO). CCO is a rough indicator of a cell’s metabolism, how well it is using its oxygen. If CCO levels are low, it can be a sign of cells in distress.

Using the same attention tasks as in concussion tests, one can establish a baseline for CCO when the CCO is being used — you’re thinking hard — and when it is not. The hypothesis is that if you can measure a CCO deficit in the brain, suggesting cells in distress, it can act as an objective first-line concussion test. The endgame would be a portable device, deployable on sidelines, battlefields, emergency rooms, and anywhere else people may need to get assessed after getting their bells rung.

While this will require some time before it becomes a functional device that can be produced on a mass scale, it does represent a promising step away from the rudimentary technique we currently use for detecting concussions.

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