Sports concussions: Is help on the way?

By DAVE SCHEIBER, Times Staff Writer
Published August 5, 2007

With the focus increasing on concussions, many are working on ways to mitigate their impact or better assess their damage: 

Scan on demand

One of the tools that might help in evaluation of concussions is CereTom, a lightweight, portable head-and-neck CT device created by a New England inventor whose brother died because of a head injury sustained in a car crash. Eric Bailey, CEO and president of the Neurologica Corp., explains that CereTom works wirelessly and allows for a complete neurological scan in 30 seconds.

The device was on hand May 5 during the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and at the Indy 500. Bailey, a former college athlete who had a few concussions himself, says CereTom has many nonsports applications, but he is particularly excited about its potential value in game situations - from ringside to the hockey rink or NFL sideline.

Says Bailey: "I think the new commissioner (Roger Goodell) really wants to tackle this." In late July, the Oakland Raiders signed on to use CereTom on their sideline and Bailey says other NFL teams are considering doing so.

Next generation helmet

A new kind of helmet is on the horizon - the Xen System - and its creators believe it will help reduce the risk and severity of concussions. The helmet employs air-release shock absorbers that adapt to the impact from a hard hit, while another feature allows the helmet to fit snugly to the head.

The helmet will be made for an array of sports where the danger of head injuries exists. "Concussions are caused by sudden movement to the head, and that's what jostles the brain," says Nadine Gelberg, whose sports technology company, Get Charged, is helping promote the helmet for Xenith, the company which produces Xen.

Sudden impact, she explains, generates "peaked" force curves in laboratory testing. But results from tests of the Xen helmets produce a flatter force curve, indicating that they are absorbing the energy from impact in a safer manner. The foam padding in football helmets, Gelberg says, is based on standards to prevent skull fractures, subdural hematomas and other life-threatening injuries.

"The current helmets are not sufficiently managing the energy below the concussion threshold," she says, stressing that shock-absorbing Xen helmets "can be applied to head protection across the board."

Xen is not ready for use, but Gelberg says the NFL has been made aware of its potential in combating the problem of concussions.