By Rob Johnson

(CBS) – In all sports right now, concussion is a huge concern.  But now, there is a new test, just approved by the Food and Drug Administration, which may better diagnose concussions in younger athletes.

It is an odd-looking, hairnet-like contraption with 256 electrodes called BNA, for Brain Network Activation. It was recently strapped to the head of 16-year-old Will Conover.  His Lake Forest rugby coach is encouraging all players to get the test.

Approved by the FDA just a month ago, Athletico is offering it at five locations around Chicago.

“It maps the brain and allows us to see the brain itself, as opposed to just the symptoms of a concussion,” Allan Van Every, vice president of Clinical Operations at Athletico, says.

The BNA does this by looking at how nerve cells are firing in the brain.  Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher from the University of Michigan spear-headed the research.

“It’s demonstrating the network dysfunction within the brain that is the result of the injury,” he says.

The first scan, called the benchmark, occurs before a concussion, perhaps at the start of a season.  If an injury occurs, subsequent tests will show  changes in the brain and doctors will have visual evidence when the brain is back to normal.

“Instead of guessing as much as we are, we have a tool to help us guide the diagnosis,” Kutcher says.

Dr. Jeff Mjaanes is hoping to start a BNA center at Rush Medical Center.  He says athletes won’t be able to fake recovery.

“It kind of gets a little bit beyond that ability of the athlete to try to change the scenario to make it look better than it actually is,” he says.

And it will allow athletes to get back on the field, court, or ice as soon as doctors say they are ready.

Will Conover likes the idea that the test could make diagnosis more definitive.

“It’s anyone’s guess if you have a concussion,” he says. “No, I’ve never been diagnosed, but I know I’ve had a headache on the field.”

The doctors all agree research on the test needs to continue.   Also, besides studying BNA, Dr. Kutcher has acted as a consultant to the manufacturer.  And Athletico is one of the sponsors of the Lake Forest Harriers rugby team.   The test costs $199, including the benchmark test as well as any post-injury tests that are needed.

 

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