banner by Bridget Moyer

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

by Charlotte Couch

Like any good adventure the inception of the Reflexion Edge originated with a bang. Quite literally, a crushing hit to Matt Roda’s head while playing ice hockey as a high school senior. On the sideline, his coach asked him several questions to test his cognitive awareness, such as what is the current year, to ensure his injury wasn’t too severe before returning him back to play. However, the brief evaluation later proved to be inaccurate as Roda had actually suffered a concussion and had to sit out from school for a month due to his injury. Roda’s experience inspired him, along with cofounders Patrick Walsh and Matthew Campagna, to invent a new device that gives more accurate and consistent results for concussion testing.

The potentially devastating consequences of an undiagnosed concussion are well documented. Students with concussions often have trouble in school because they are forced to deal with symptoms, such as blurred vision, attention problems and memory loss. The widespread effects of a concussion can also negatively impact the athlete’s physical and social health. In severe cases, cumulative brain trauma to an athlete with an existing concussion can lead to brain hematomas, permanent neurological impairment or even death.  

While there are currently portable concussion-screening devices on the market, such as the Dynavision D2 and the Infrascanner, they are too costly for most high schools. The Reflexion Edge most closely mirrors the Dynavision D2, whose current users include the United States Army and Johns Hopkins Hospital. While the Dynavision D2 includes functions for neurological rehabilitation and motor training, the Reflexion Edge specializes solely on concussion detection.

The Reflexion Edge is six feet long and two feet high, and can be folded into a bag for easier transport to off-site events. It has a screen filled with dozens of rows of lights that span wide enough to cover a user’s peripheral vision. The device is engineered to test memory, peripheral awareness and depth perception. Patrick Walsh, the company’s chief operating officer, explained that these cognitive functions may be negatively affected from a concussion, so it is critical that the device can test all of them.

How the Reflexion Edge works is quite simple: an athelete stands in front of the device, and as different lights appear, he or she is prompted to interact with each of them using its touch screen. According to Walsh, “The device will measure a user’s reaction time to hit the lights, assign a score for memory tasks (i.e. how close to a light they were that appeared earlier in a memory trial) and calculate the difference in reaction time to hit lights that appear toward the edge of the board compared to the ones in the center.” The scores will then be combined using a pre-designed algorithm. Lastly, this score will be compared to a baseline test that an athlete performed prior to the beginning of his or her season. The results can be used to decide if the athlete is fit to return to play.

The first prototype of the Reflexion Edge was created in Roda’s basement and its programming was based on previous research on concussion testing. Early in the company’s development, Roda recruited Dr. Semyon Slobounov from Pennsylvania State University to help with the product’s development. Slobounov is currently the principal investigator for the project and will lead the clinical studies on the company’s second prototype. Compared to the 60 lights built into predecessor, the newer device not only incorporates 2500 lights, but is significantly lighter. The newest version of the Reflexion Edge is also engineered to perform more complicated procedures.

Now that the project is in its clinical trial phase, the team plans on testing students and collecting data at Pennsylvania State University for four to five months. Afterwards, they plan on programming a more specific algorithm for concussion screening that will be tested on athletes who are diagnosed with a concussion based on current medical standards. While the device’s projected price is not yet determined, they are planning to sell it no higher than $700. Like most concussion testing software that high schools currently use, there will be an annual fee for using the device. The Reflexion Edge will test athletes several times a year, all while improving the original model.

The Reflexion Edge has potential to become a leading tool in recognizing and preventing further brain damage to athletes who receive concussions during a practice or game. The testing currently used by high schools on the field is subjective, and therefore inadequate considering the grave consequences of undiagnosed concussions. Hopefully, once the Reflexion Edge emerges on the market, such fallible tests will become a thing of the past.