SyncThink – Detecting and Studying Concussions Through A Patient’s Eyes
In the professional sports world, and especially in football, there are more and more medical reports written about concussions every year. It goes without saying it is one of the most traumatic types of injuries for anyone, as it leads to an assortment of problems with brain functions.
In order to study these types of injuries, doctors and scientists have developed new research techniques with the abundance of digital health technology. However, an ongoing problem within the field is inaccurate findings and the subjective opinion of the clinician.
SyncThink is a digital health startup providing a more objective analysis of a patient’s head trauma through a proprietary software platform and more than a decade of research spearheaded by company co-founder and Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr. Jamshid Ghajar.
Dr. Ghajar is a neurosurgeon who has been studying and conducting tests regarding concussions since 2003. In 2006, Dr. Ghajar and Dr. Minah Suh, published a study investigating how studying a patient’s eye movements and status could lead to further examination of whether or not the patient has a concussion. Two years later, Dr. Ghajar released a scientific article detailing his theory on the Predictive Brain State.
SyncThink was initially founded in 2009 as a Department of Defense R&D project, with support from the Brain Trauma Foundation. At the beginning, the team was trying to develop a wearable device that can detect a patient’s eye movements and conscious state. Shortly after the development of the device started, Daniel Beeler came on board as an image processing specialist and later became the company’s CTO.
“I’ve been involved with this technology for a while, even before it was commercialized at SyncThink,” says Beeler. “My background is astrophysics, and I was looking to work in something more applied. When SyncThink
came around, I was recruited to develop eye-tracking for it.” Beeler assisted in developing the specialized technology the company used in their prototype and still use today.
Eventually, SyncThink became its own brand after the CEO, Ernie Santin, came aboard in 2014. Santin has a long career in commercializing early-stage sensor and healthcare technologies, and the practical use of SyncThink’s technology appealed to him.
SyncThink’s software, EYE-SYNC, is a mobile detection platform which utilizes modified VR technology. The patient will place the device on their face and, thanks to sophisticated detection and sensor technology, the data can be transferred onto a tablet the clinician will use to diagnose the patient. The data transferred over is a result of tracking a patient’s eyes, as well as other assessments including a patient’s balance and behavior.
“It’s a direct measurement of your eye movements,” the CTO explains. “We record a patient’s visual stimuli by targeting their movements in circular motion.”
The company’s devices are currently used by several institutions, including Mass General Hospital. Other clients include Stanford University who keeps the EYE-SYNC device on the sidelines of every major sporting event.
SyncThink was one of the many digital health companies to be accepted into MassChallenge’s PULSE program. Through PULSE, SyncThink managed to grow their network and gain an insight into their industry. “PULSE was very unique in the way it was structured,” Beeler says. “It was encouraging at our stage, where you’re paired with an expert in the industry and you gain a new perspective with the technology.”
On June 13, 2017, SyncThink received top honors at the PULSE @ MassChallenge finale, taking home the grand prize of $100,000. “We didn’t expect it,” Beeler says, reacting to SyncThink’s big win. “When you’re working at a startup, it’s all heads down. You’re always working towards the next thing, but it’s encouraging knowing someone is watching and knowing you’re on the right track.”
Almost immediately after winning the award, Beeler attended the North American Trainers’ Association (NATA) Conference in Houston. NATA is one of, if not the largest gathering of athletic trainers in the country and a perfect outlet for displaying SyncThink’s uses for the world of sports.
Concussions are a serious matter and a misdiagnosed one can result in something worse down the road. SyncThink’s combination of insightful technology and background in studying the science of concussions, could assist medical centers and provide the information they need for this field. “A lot of concussion assessments are subjective,” says Beeler. “Our goal is to provide objective tools and information to improve outcomes.”