BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There's something new inside the helmets of 24 LSU Tigers this football season. A piece of "smart fabric" is the latest advancement in technology designed to prevent concussions.
"As I press inside the helmet, you can see the pressure map show up on the screen, and as I change the pressure location inside the helmet, the pressure changes on the screen as well," said Head Health Network (HHN) president Curtis Cruz during a recent demonstration.
HHN and LSU football partnered this season to better analyze the hits players take and figure out ways to minimize injuries. LSU is one of a handful of universities taking part in the study.
Inside the helmets are an accelerometer and gyroscope to measure impact and force, a digital thermometer to measure body temperature, and the company's patented Smart Fabric that directly measures the location of each impact. The data is transmitted wirelessly to the sidelines in real-time, where trainers and doctors can track each player's hits throughout the game and decide if and when they need medical attention.
"Our tool and other sensors that are on the market are good tools in helping to spot concussions, but right now we're far away from saying they actually diagnose concussions," Cruz explained.
Dr. Eric Oberlander serves as the team's neurosurgeon and practices at The Neuromedical Center in Perkins Rowe. He said the smart helmets may eventually help researchers understand why some players are more susceptible to concussions and long-term brain damage. Another question is what difference the age of the player makes.
"The goal is to collect data, which is something that LSU is leading the nation on, and to analyze it and to figure out the answers to these questions," Oberlander said.
The commercial market that's developed over the last five years is helping to collect that data, and Oberlander predicts parents will eventually be able to monitor their kids in real-time from a smartphone app.
"The Holy Grail for researchers is to discover a biomarker for concussion, so what I mean by biomarker is, imagine if there was a blood test to tell you if you've had a brain injury or not," he said.
While the LSU Medical School works with LSU football on that front, HHN is targeting youth leagues that can't afford to keep a doctor on staff. Their system includes live access to a doctor via videoconferencing.
"The doctor actually sees the information about the impacts that have occurred that day, throughout the season for you. He's also able to interact directly with you to provide an assessment in real time," Cruz said.
HHN will soon roll out a pilot program with 250 kids in Atlanta as part of a partnership with Pop Warner.
"We want to help find a way to make sure that people feel like they can play the game in a safe way," Cruz added. "There's risk with everything we do, but if you can manage that risk and feel like you're not being negligent in putting your kids out on the field, I think that's a good service to the game."
LSU Football averages six concussions during preseason training, and three during the regular season, according to head trainer Jack Marucci.