Rugby-governing bodies World Rugby, New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia will be trying out NeuroFlex – an eye-tracking technology that runs on virtual reality – to aid in diagnosing and managing concussions.
Developed by Saccade Analytics, a technology solutions provider for neurological care, NeuroFlex is currently being trialled in the 2021 Super Rugby Trans-Tasman – a rugby competition in Australia and New Zealand.
WHAT IT DOES
NeuroFlex, a fruit borne from three decades of research and development, is a test based on a set of scientifically validated oculomotor functions. According to a statement by World Rugby, data from the test is analysed within seconds through the NeuroFlex software that uses a proprietary algorithm to generate an accurate, quantitative and metrics-based report, which is then used to diagnose and manage concussions.
During the opening round of the Super Rugby game, the test was used alongside the present head injury assessment (HIA) protocols to determine whether the eye-tracking system enhances the HIA process, which is presently running at 90% accuracy in elite competitions.
The test will also be used within the six-stage graduated return-to-play process to monitor players returning from injury and protect their health.
WHY IT MATTERS
The trial aims to verify the VR test's accuracy in identifying altered oculomotor functions that happen at the time of or shortly after a concussion. The accuracies in brain injury identification of both the VR test and the HIA were also compared.
Before the actual game, baseline data were collected from participating players "to provide an accurate comparison for use when a player comes off the field for an HIA."
"We believe that oculomotor screening examination in rugby has the potential to boost the identification and management of concussions by objectively identifying potential abnormalities in oculomotor function between a player’s baseline and when removed for an HIA, adding to the depth of identification methods available to the sport," World Rugby chief medical officer Dr Éanna Falvey said in a press statement.
Besides Neuroflex, World Rugby has also tapped another eye-tracking technology developer, EyeGuide, to assist in managing brain injuries for athletes. It runs a platform that rapidly captures and analyses eye movements in 10 seconds.
Other players in the brain injury assessment and management space include US-based NeuroLogix Technologies with its C3Logix system; BrainCheck and its mobile app that makes neurocognitive assessments; and BrainScope, a maker of wearable device and app that gauges traumatic brain injuries.
Meanwhile, World Rugby has joined a large-scale study with New Zealand Rugby, the University of Otago and US-based Prevent Biometrics to understand the nature and frequency of head impact in rugby matches. The study uses an impact monitoring mouthguard, which has a recording accuracy of 95%.
ON THE RECORD
"As a key element of our progressive approach to injury reduction and management, rugby continually explores and assesses technology developments that could enhance the care of players in our sport, from community rugby to the elite competitions," Dr Falvey said.
"The ambition of this partnership with NeuroFlex is to determine the technology’s objective diagnostic accuracy in a rugby environment and help inform the advancement of World Rugby’s future concussion identification and management strategies," he added.
"NeuroFlex provides objective, actionable data on brain functionality by using eye-tracking software in virtual reality. We are particularly excited because NeuroFlex can support player welfare beyond HIA1 to facilitate unbiased return-to-play decisions through oculomotor rehabilitation and HIA2 and HIA3 screening," Isabel Galiana, CEO of Saccade Analytics, also said in the statement.