SEATTLE — High-profile cases of suspected CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease) raise questions about what’s being done to reduce the risks of concussions.
On Thursday, it was revealed that the brain of former New England Patriots’ tight end Aaron Henandez showed severe signs of the disease.
Here in the Seattle region, technology and medicine are joining forces, hoping to make high-contact sports like football safer.
When players hit the gridiron there’s always a risk of getting a concussion.
“There are several million concussions that happen a year. The majority, the ones we hear about, are in football,” said Dr. Samuel Browd. a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Washington. “But hockey, girls’ soccer and a variety of other sports that have high concussion rates. These are areas we need to focus on as try to make youth sports safer. ”
He co-founded VICIS to develop the New Zero One helmets. The helmets use technology to help make the sport safer.
“There is significant force reduction with our helmet,” said Browd.
There are four layers to the $1,500 helmet.
“In particular, there’s a layer inside that has columns. They are able to bend with linear force and rotational force,” said Browd. “That redistributes the force the helmet is seeing.”
The helmet is also custom fit.
“We’ve been lab testing the helmet repeatedly for last four years before it was introduced this year in the marketplace. This is the first season that the helmet has been out and available to players,” said Browd.
Right now, about 60 players in NFL are using the helmets.
“We have players playing in the NFL and the NCAA level. Russell Wilson is in our helmet,” Browd said.
So is Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith.
“We’re excited to see the helmet in use and ultimately to track the performance of our helmet.”
Meanwhile, the University of Washington is developing a new smart phone app called “PupilScreen.”
Researchers say it could detect concussions right on the football field.
The app uses your phone’s flashlight and camera to see if the pupil dilates and detects concussion symptoms.
We recently talked to a local highs school coach about it.
“I have three sons playing football right now. And every kid is somebody’s son and we want to protect them,” said Kennewick football coach Bill Templeton.
Whether it’s a new phone app or a new helmet, Browd says better technology combined with better rules and coaching will all help make high-contact sports safer.
“For me, this is all about kids and making sure kids can play sports safely,” said Browd. “It’s important to me that any kid who wants to be in this helmet and any parent who wants their child in a helmet will be able to get better technology.”
VICIS wants to produce affordable helmets for kids in the next 18 months.
“Right now we have some high school players that have been able to get the helmet and are out playing with it. Right now we are taking orders on line at the company for distribution for next year,” said Browd.
As for the PupilScreen app, that new tool could be available in two years after Food and Drug Administration approval.