One startup is ready to launch a product that it hopes will change people’s minds about the need for objective brain injury data.
The amount of concussions and brain injuries that occur is actually more than most people know, according to Adam Simon, president and CEO of Cerora Inc., a Bethlehem startup with an office at Ben Franklin TechVentures2 incubator. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates at least 1.7 million concussions occur each year in the United States, a figure that includes only emergency department visits.
“I think the published data on the amount of concussions taking place is underreported,” Simon said.
Aside from big-name superstars in the National Football League, high school and collegiate athletes also are exposed to the risk of traumatic brain injuries, according to Simon.
The problem, however, is that no technologies are available to use on site that quickly allow medical personnel to accurately and objectively determine if the injured player can go back on the field.
Often, athletes, parents, coaches and teammates are eager to get the player back in the game without considering the potential risks of a brain injury. The existing “state-of-the-art” test for diagnosing brain injuries is not objective and does not treat the entire brain, according to Simon.
The tools used today are not sensitive enough, and even though the damage from a brain injury may not be visible, it doesn’t mean it’s not there, he said.
“They don’t recognize it. It’s still their subjective impression,” Simon said. “Human behavior is the biggest obstacle. You are not going to get an objective sense of what’s going on.”
Cerora has developed technology that connects a portable computerized device, such as a smartphone, with a brainwave detector that looks similar to a set of headphones. An array of biosensors in the headset can monitor the entire brain and transmit brain data to a central cloud computer, Simon said.
The computer can then scan and analyze the data and then transmit objective clinical information for a doctor to interpret remotely and then send back to a school nurse, athletic trainer or other health care professional. The entire process takes a few minutes.
“We don’t make the diagnosis,” Simon said. “But we want to empower them [the health care professionals].”
It’s not just physical abilities that can be impaired by an injured player returning to the game too fast. Symptoms often get worse with mental activity if a student with a brain injury “returns to learn” too soon, Simon said.
For more than a decade, Simon worked in the pharmaceutical industry at Merck. With a love of biology and physics, he began to develop an interest in brain function, specifically Alzheimer’s disease.
The startup has worked with Lehigh University’s Sports Medicine group for two years and has two full-time and three part-time employees.
Cerora hopes to launch its product at the 66th annual meeting for the American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia from April 26-May 3.
Borealis, the software the company will debut, is device-free. By the fourth quarter this year or first quarter next year, Cerora hopes to be on the market with the MindReader device and software once it gets FDA approval, Simon said.
Cerora strives to be as active as it can be on its limited budget, Simon said.
Attending conferences helps get out the word. At the American Academy of Neurology conference, Cerora will conduct three presentations about the company and its goals.
Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeast Pennsylvania approved a second round of funding for Cerora in November, and external investor funds are imminent. Ben Franklin Technology Partners was the company’s first outside investor, and Simon said the company feels well-supported by the nonprofit agency.
“Cerora is the kind of company Ben Franklin invests in because it provides an opportunity to create high-paying sustainable Pennsylvania jobs as well as improve the human condition,” said Laura Eppler, director of marketing for Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
The age groups with the most risks for brain injuries are 0-4, 15-24 and those older than 65, Simon said. With a growing, aging U.S. population, the device could find a large market with older adults.
In addition to brain injury, the device also has applications for patients with Alzheimer’s and for helping to diagnose autism at an earlier age in young children.
“Today, concussion is an invisible injury,” Simon said. “We want to make it visible.”