A new athletic mouthguard under development by a partnership involving Louisiana State University (LSU) could have a future impact emergency medicine’s treatment of traumatic brain injuries caused by sports.
i1 Biometrics, a technology firm in Kirkland, Washington, announced late last year that it has developed what it calls the Vector MouthGuard in partnership with LSU. The mouthguard has embedded ESP Chip Technology that can measure both linear and rotational accelerations of head impacts during athletic activity. The company is working with multiple LSU football players to test the product’s efficacy.
The technology of “smart mouthguards” is a burgeoning market, with several firms working on products that have not yet become mainstream. The mouthguards mostly remain in the early phases of research, but emergency physicians may want to keep an eye on their progress. If the mouthguard technology progresses, the data provided could be used by emergency physicians to evaluate the type and severity of injuries that present to the ED. That could potentially inform treatment options.
“A significant struggle faced by coaches and trainers today is centered around knowing the severity and location of head impact on the field of play,” Jesse Harper, chief executive officer of i1 Biometrics, said on the firm’s Web site. The mouthguard, the site notes, “is engineered to reduce the guesswork so that coaches and trainers have accurate and timely data to help make proper decisions for their student athletes.”
There are an estimated 5 million new head injuries annually in the United States, according to the Brain Injury Resource Center, a nonprofit advocacy group in Seattle. Most result in no interaction with physicians. But a 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on traumatic brain injuries noted 275,000 hospitalizations and 52,000 deaths a year from 2002 to 2006.
David Camarillo, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University in Stanford, California, has been working with football players for years to generate data on head injuries to stem that tide. Last summer, he told the Stanford News Service that the work has real-world implications beyond the football field. “Football players willingly put themselves at risk at a well-defined point and time in space for us to carry out our research in this ‘lab,’” he said. “What we are learning from them will help lead to technologies that will one day make bike riding and driving in your car safer, too.”
That, of course, is music to emergency physicians’ ears.