Tackling Head Injuries With Research

By Kevin Hrusovsky, Executive Chairman And CEO, Quanterix

For most Americans, Super Bowl 51 consisted of being glued to the TV, surrounded by friends, family and great food, watching one of the greatest games in the history of sports. Football is one of the nation’s oldest and most beloved sports, yet it is also a game that has been surrounded by controversy, primarily around the issue of head trauma and concussions.

Over the years, the NFL has come under fire for its concussion protocols and has been forced to settle lawsuits, brought on by former players, forcing them to pay out millions of dollars. Recently, the NFL has made monumental changes in their actions related to head injury in an effort to tackle concussions head on. They’ve acknowledged the dangers of the sport, admitted to not handling the issue to the best of their ability in years past and made clear changes to improve the safety of the game.

For starters, the NFL has joined forces with GE to introduce the Head Health Challenge to help reward companies developing innovative technologies aimed at making sports safer. We’re honored to have won this grant twice and have used those funds to greatly improve our technology. In an open letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell, the league also committed to improving player health and safety, launching the Play Smart. Play Safe initiative to “drive progress in the way prevention, diagnosis and treatment of head injuries enhance medical protocols and further improve the way the game is taught and played by all who love it.” The league also announced it would be pledging $100 million in support for independent medical research and engineering advancements.

As a company that believes we have the power to improve player safety, we also know that change cannot happen unless we have unified support from the entire community, including researchers, scientists, doctors, patients, patient advocates, investors, and institutions like the NFL. To see their renewed commitment to putting an end to the concussion epidemic has been inspiring.

We’ve also stepped up our research in the area of neurology, releasing three marquee studies that could change the way the industry disgnoses and treats concussions and neurodegenerative diseases moving forward. The first came from Dr. Robert Stern, Boston University. The study, published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer’s and Dementia examined levels of tau, a protein that is indicative of brain injuries and neurodegenerative changes, and found that repeated hits to the head earlier in life can lead to higher concentrations of tau later in life. Among other things, the study shows promise for being able to diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the living, which has never been done before.

A subsequent study from Dr. Jessica Gill, National Institutes of Health, shows that a blood test could help predict recovery time after a concussion, enabling safer and more accurate return-to-play decisions for athletes. Published in Neurology, the study also examined levels of tau protein and found that athletes who took longer to return to play after suffering a concussion, had higher levels of tau in their blood in the six hours following the trauma than players who were cleared to return to play sooner.

Further, a study of NCAA Division 1 football players, published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, used our technology to examine differences in baseline neurofilament light (NfL) levels, between the football players and non-contact sport athletes. By examining changes over the course of the season, the study found that a season of collegiate football is associated with elevatated levels of NfL, which is indicative of head injuries like concussions, which points to a potential correlation between contact sports and concussions.

All of these studies, along with the near 50 others that we have in the area of neurology, highlight the abilities of our Simoa technology to aid in the diagnosis of concussions, and other neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and CTE earlier than ever thought possible. So early in fact, that it has the power to change not only the way these diseases are diagnosed, but also how they are treated moving forward. Utilizing these Simoa assays for different brain disease processes and cell types will also allow the development of a precison-medicine based approach, which is similarly now been pursued in cancer.

Additionally, we have numerous investments underway to reduce the size of our Simoa instrument to a smaller point-of-care device that can be used on sidelines and in doctors’ offices. We are also investing in further expanding our menu of critical brain health markers to measure not only whether a person has suffered a concussion, but other variables including how severe the injury is, when it’s safe to return to play, what the best treatment is to accelerate recovery, when the accumulated effect of head injury has reached a critical state relative to triggering a neurodegenerative disease, and to help measure effectiveness of preventative technologies such as helmets and others. 

We are humbled by the attention we’ve been receiving for these milestones. Since Quanterix was founded in 2007, the Company has been dedicated to expanding the reach of this truly life changing technology, and it’s been an honor to see the millions of people around the world get behind our mission to improve precision health. We’ve seen evidence of this in the profiles we’ve been included in top media publications, including International Business TimesThe Wall Street JournalFortune and hundreds of others. All of this helps support our goal of advancing life-changing research for the betterment of precision healthcare and the longevity of the population.