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College of Idaho Alum Develops Concussion-Diagnosing Technology


Knowing that nearly 4,000,000 high school, college and professional athletes suffer from concussions each year, College of Idaho alumni, Robert Hamilton spends his days in his California-based Neural Analytics lab developing an ultrasound technology that will alter the way we understand mild to severe brain injuries.

“The goal of Neural Analytics is to redefine how head injuries are both diagnosed and managed,” said Hamilton, head scientist in charge of technology for NA.

Hamilton and his NA colleagues have helped design an ultrasound headset specifically created to measure blood-flow to the brain. Similar to an ultrasound used to view a fetus during pregnancy, the headset sends out a wave which helps paint a computer-generated image of the blood in and around the brain, allowing medical professionals to view whether or not a recent head impact caused a concussion.

The human brain can naturally regulate blood flow on a continuous basis. Whether you’re standing up after being seated for several moments or you're taking a five-minute swim, the brain is constantly working on maintaining a healthy level of blood (and oxygen) to the brain. But during the event of a concussion, an injury to the head results in the temporary inability for the brain to efficiently regulate blood flow, causing serious and sometimes fatal consequences. The headset designed by NA is also safe for young children as it uses no radiation, making it a much safer choice before the commonly used CT scan.

“I did this test for two years in Africa on children suffering from cerebral malaria. I did this test on kids as young as six months old,” Hamilton told Boise Weekly.

After graduating from the C of I and receiving a Ph.D in biomedical engineering from UCLA, Hamilton co-founded NA in 2013 alongside Leo Petrossian and Dan Hanchey, fellow UCLA alumni. During a common error in the lab, Hamilton discovered the missing ingredient to an algorithm he had been working on. This error, however led to the headset that is now being used on nearly 1,000 people per year to diagnose head injuries ranging anywhere from severe to mild traumatic brain injuries.

“We don’t want people to return from a brain injury too early, which will hopefully lead to fewer concussions and eventually address the CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy issue,” Hamilton told BW.

CTE is a progressive degenerative disease caused by multiple concussions which often results in the total loss of blood flow to the brain. Medical research is only just beginning to understand the brain and how it is affected by trauma. In many cases, concussions go undiagnosed and result in permanent damage.

NA is currently working on receiving FDA approval for their ultrasound headset as it has provided astounding new evidence to support the treatment of brain injuries.

“A concussion ended my football career in high school so I understand how scary it can be for the athlete and the parent,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton and his research team are currently conducting trials to test their newest technology in a study called Project Mind: Measurement of Intracranial Neurological Disorders. So far this year, tests have been conducted on nearly 600 people, helping create levels of variability for various age groups and giving doctors better data than a simple memory test.

“It can be used on the sideline of football games or battlefields or in the emergency room. Really anywhere someone can have a traumatic brain injury,” Hamilton said.