Research Published on Using Motor Tracking to Assess mTBI

Female doctor looking at images of brain scan

A team of researchers from the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network (MNRN) have published their findings on utilizing an objective method of assessing mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI). Published in Experimental Brain Research, the research was led by Alexander W. Dromerick, MD, Vice President for Research at MNRN, in collaboration with Peter S. Lum, PhD, Chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Catholic University of America.

A TBI is defined as an injury or disruption of brain function due to an external force. TBI is rated by severity, categorized as mild, moderate, or severe based on the length of loss of consciousness, alteration of consciousness and/or mental state, or post-traumatic amnesia. A mild TBI (mTBI) is clinically synonymous with concussion.

The article, “Dynamic motor tracking is sensitive to subacute mTBI”, showed that grip force metrics could provide a more accurate diagnosis of mTBI. Individuals with and without diagnosed mTBI were asked to squeeze a hand dynamometer, and change their grip force to match a variable target force for 3 minutes. A model of how participants’ changed their grip force in response to error classified mTBI with a sensitivity of 87% and a specificity of 93%, comparable to or better than several standard clinical scales. The same model was also sensitive to time post injury.

The findings suggest that visuomotor (coordination of movement and visual perceptions) tracking could be an effective supplement to conventional assessment tools to screen for mTBI and track mTBI symptoms during recovery. “Effective screening for mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is critical to accurate diagnosis, intervention, and improving outcomes,” the authors said.

The research team also included Anthony J. Metzger, PhD; Alexander V. Libin, PhD; Jill Terner, MPH; David Milzman, MD from MNRN, in addition to Michael S. Fine, from the MITRE Corporation. Additional researchers were Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Naval Health Research Center and Naval Medical Research Center.

Dr. Dromerick is also Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine and Neurology and Chairman of Rehabilitation Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center and a Research Scientist at the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center. Dr. Lum is also Director the Center for Applied Biomechanics and Rehabilitation Research at MNRN. He is also a Research Health Scientist at the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Experimental Brain Research, 2016. DOI: 10.1007/s00221-016-4714-5

This research was funded through the following: Dromerick AW, Lum PS, Tractenberg R, Libin AV: “Grip force control as a diagnostic tool for mild TBI. Naval Health Research Center W911QY-09-D-0041