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Whitman High School Chosen for Concussion Research Study

Device developed by Bethesda firm to be tested on student-athletes

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BrainScope CEO Michael Singer with the company's handheld concussion-testing device

Michael Ventura

Walt Whitman High School announced Friday that the school is partnering with a Bethesda neuro-technology firm to conduct a research study that’s designed to improve the recognition and diagnosis of sports-related concussions among student-athletes.

The Bethesda school will hold a meeting for parents at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the study, which will test a new handheld, non-invasive electroencephalogram (EEG) device developed by BrainScope that can quickly assess concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.

Whitman is the first high school in state to be chosen to participate in the research study, according to BrainScope Chief Executive Officer Michael Singer.  

“We’re really excited to get going,” said Singer, whose daughter is a junior at Whitman and whose son graduated last year.  “It’s the ideal environment to do these studies. It’s a population that understands the great benefit to understanding the topical area of concussions.”

Researchers will soon start to recruit 50 varsity student-athletes to participate in the yearlong study, said Katie Hughes Brodka, senior athletic trainer for Medstar Sports Medicine, which will help run the study. Medstar provides athletic trainers for eight Montgomery County public high schools.

The Medstar Health Research Institute will oversee the study along with its physicians and concussion specialists, Elizabeth Delasobera and Kori Hudson of Medstar Sports Medicine, according to Brodka, a former athletic trainer at Whitman. 

The goal of study is to improve the diagnosis of concussions after they occur on the playing field, according to Singer and Brodka. Though researchers can’t predict how many students may be injured during a season, statistics show “a typical concussion rate is in the 8 percent to 10 percent range of participating athletes across the board,” Singer said.

“If all the kids who were hurt this year so far were to participate in the study, we’d already have 10 concussions logged in,” Brodka said.

The study will follow participating student-athletes who meet specific criteria to see if they sustain a traumatic brain injury while playing a school sport. Those who are injured will undergo a standard screening protocol and be tested with the BrainScope hand-held device within 24 hours and then undergo an MRI within 72 hours, Brodka said. 

Athletic trainers or other qualified personnel will apply the BrainScope device, which consists of a cap with sensors and a handheld device, to an athlete’s head to determine whether electrical brain activity shows evidence of a concussion, Singer said.

“What we’ve created is a rapidly applied EEG, handheld, that can be used pretty much in any venue to help the clinician through objective means ascertain whether a person has some form of aberration in their brain electrical activity,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is give that clinician as much information as they need to make that initial diagnosis that can let them follow a path of care.”

BrainScope has been conducting similar studies at a handful of colleges and universities using its technology that’s been more than seven years in development. The company has been awarded more than $27 million from the Department of Defense for its research and development of traumatic brain injury and concussion assessment technology.

Singer said BrainScope decided to expand its research to high school students because of the high number of concussions sustained by student-athletes. The company hopes to expand the study to additional high schools.

“We basically want to cover all of the sports teams that are participating in active competitive sports,” he said.

Participants will be monitored throughout their recovery, Singer said. “Throughout the season we follow these athletes and those who are hurt, we follow them all the way to the end of the season. It’s a longitudinal assessment.”

The study has been approved by the Chesapeake Institutional Review Board and Montgomery County Public Schools Office of Shared Accountability.

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