MUSC, ZIAN Team with BLINKtbi to Bring New Concussion Detection Aid to Sidelines

August 9, 2017

CHARLESTON, SC –The Zucker Institute for Applied Neurosciences (ZIAN) at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) has partnered with BLINKtbi, Inc. to test and bring to market a new concussion detection aid that provides objective, fast, and accurate feedback to the user within 30 seconds.

“They made the licensing process so easy compared to the laborious ‘usual’ university licensing. We couldn’t be any more excited for the opportunity we have licensed from ZIAN,” said BLINKtbi co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Dr. Ryan Fiorini, a former graduate and employee of MUSC. “ZIAN has cracked the code on efficient licensing and being a technical partner for building medical products.”

The Blink Reflexometer has the potential to better identify concussions and help the more than 400,000 children and teenagers who suffer a sports-related concussion each year. Some of those kids, like the pro athletes they admire, try to keep playing, even though doing that can cause more serious or even deadly problems. The inventors and care providers working with ZIAN want to change that by offering a concussion detection aid that is fast, portable, and can’t be cheated.

The Blink Reflexometer is designed to measure the way an athlete blinks before and after a head injury. Changes in an individual’s blink can indicate a concussion. “Because a blink is an involuntary reflex, it is a good way for a trainer trying to make a call on the sidelines to check neurological function,” said co-inventor and ZIAN Chief Executive Officer Mark Semler.

Semler said Nancey Tsai, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, came up the idea while affiliated with MUSC’s Neuroscience Department. She knew blink reflexometers were out there, but they were, in Semler’s words, “pretty crude, kind of do-it-yourself research tools,” and had never been used to detect changes due to a concussive event.

Tsai had something different in mind: a high-quality but relatively low-cost device that could be used right on the sidelines of games. It would need to be put through rigorous testing to see how well it worked and whether any changes were needed. In 2013, ZIAN filed a patent, began building a working device and collected data. Over the next few years, the device was tested on trial participants at MUSC, athletes at The Citadel, and high school athletes in the South Carolina Upstate. Fast forward to July 2017, and a deal was struck with BLINKtbi to complete the testing and development necessary for the technology to hit the market.

The next steps are to obtain the data needed to support FDA approval, refine and optimize the device, and then make it available for purchase by local, college, professional, and other sports teams with an interest in making sure trainers can make better, more objective calls about whether a player needs to stay in or leave a game. “Right now, trainers just use guidelines put out by various organizations. They have other diagnostic equipment too, but in talking to them, we learned it doesn’t fit their needs,” Fiorini said.

Unfortunately, many of today’s concussion diagnostics can allow some players to “game” the system. Players intentionally do badly on baseline tests measuring their memory and balance, taken before they play. That way, if they have a concussion and have to retake the tests, their scores should still look okay and they can keep playing.

“We aren’t calling the Blink Reflexometer a concussion detector. It’s an aid for trainers,” Semler said. An aid designed to be rugged, portable, and fast, “so you don’t have to take them off the field. It’s Friday night lights, it’s raining and the crowd is screaming. You want to know if they have an issue so you can move them somewhere else for treatment or they can safely go back in.” 

About BLINKtbi, Inc.

BLINKtbi’s Reflexometer device is the world’s first concussion diagnostic device that uses blink reflexes in the eye to monitor and diagnose concussions and other traumatic brain injury (TBI). Because this is based on human reflexes, the patient cannot cheat the system to ensure they get to stay in a game. The system employs the use of high-speed videography recording the blink reflex and tracks the eyelid blinking using proprietary algorithms to BLINKtbi. The platform measures the change in blink reflex time and duration and the results are compared to an individual’s already established baseline reflex and a change is indicative of a TBI.

About ZIAN (Zucker Institute for Applied Neurosciences)

ZIAN is a non-profit technology accelerator embedded within the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Department of Neurosurgery in Charleston, S.C. Established in 2013, ZIAN’s mission is to “apply scientific and clinical discovery to concrete neuroscience problems and develop technological advancements that will make a difference in patients’ lives.” ZIAN’s management and development team includes a renowned faculty of neuroscience clinicians and scientists, along with talented engineers and business development experts. The team collaborates with industry partners to swiftly and efficiently meet the increasing patient and practitioner demand for breakthroughs in treatment across the spectrum of neurologic disorders. ZIAN is currently developing technologies in the areas of neurological assessment, spine surgery, imaging, neurovascular, and treatments for brain tumors and spinal cord injury. To learn more about ZIAN, call 843-792-5406 or visit zianeuro.org.

About Industrica 

Industrica, an investment banking and venture development agency based in Charleston, S.C., assisted ZIAN in the licensing of the technology.

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and 700 residents in six colleges (Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy), and has nearly 14,000 employees, including approximately 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $2.4 billion, with an annual economic impact of more than $3.8 billion and annual research funding in excess of $250 million. MUSC operates a 700-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital, the Ashley River Tower (cardiovascular, digestive disease, and surgical oncology), Hollings Cancer Center (a National Cancer Institute-designated center), Level I Trauma Center, Institute of Psychiatry, and the state’s only transplant center. In 2017, for the third consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health the number one hospital in South Carolina. For more information on academic programs or clinical services, visit musc.edu. For more information on hospital patient services, visit MUSChealth.org.