Concussions are notoriously difficult to diagnose. Hennepin County Medical Center neurosurgeon and researcher Dr. Uzma Samadani would know. For more than five years, she’s been working to change the way brain injuries are diagnosed and defined through Oculogica, a medical technology startup she co-founded to identify brain injuries.
Oculogica’s software tracks pupil movement, which helps diagnose concussions. In her research, Samadani discovered that normal, healthy people move their eyes differently than those with swelling in their brain. By studying these abnormalities in movement, doctors can find out the location and severity of a brain injury, which is key to determining how it should be treated. That’s easier said than done.
Someone with a concussion can exhibit around 20 potential symptoms. Because of that volume, these symptoms can be difficult to interpret. Another method of diagnosis is through CT scans, which are used to examine acute brain injuries, but concussions don’t show up in these images.
Samadani said that the most common way to diagnose a brain injury is often through physical examination, and by studying a patient’s history. All of these processes are usually to determine if a patient has a concussion in the first place.
As a neurosurgeon studying brain injury, Samadani became interested in learning how to objectively determine if someone was getting better or worse after a brain injury.
“Once we came up with the idea, we knew that we wanted to create something that actually told you what was wrong,” she said.
Brain injuries can be deadly. They’re the leading cause of 50 percent of all trauma deaths, and the most common cause of death for people under 35, according to Samadani. These types of injuries most commonly occur during falls or car accidents.
Oculogica’s headquarters are in New York City, where Samadani was previously an assistant professor at New York University. Several years ago, Hennepin County Medical Center recruited her to join their neurosurgery team. She is also an associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Minnesota.
Oculogica has raised around $3 million to date, according to Crunchbase, and has received funding from local angel investors Gopher Angels and Sofia Fund. Samadani said that the company is currently focused on receiving FDA approval for its technology, and hopes to move to commercialization by 2019.