Researchers have developed a brain imaging system that may one day be used in concussion treatment clinics and sports facilities to detect and monitor damage in the brain from concussion. (Credit: Pauline Zulueta, Cumming School of Medicine)

It's one of the most talked about injuries in sport today: concussion. Yet there is no accepted way to image a concussion. Scientists have now developed a portable brain imaging system that uses light to detect and monitor damage in the brain from concussion.

The device, a near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), measures communication in the brain by measuring oxygen levels. When the brain is working well, major regions on each side of the brain are communicating and so have similar patterns of blood flow and oxygen levels in blood. Researchers measure the changes in blood oxygen levels as a marker of brain function. Results show these patterns change after concussion.

Symptoms can vary greatly between individuals, and can include headaches, nausea, loss of memory and lack of co-ordination (to name a few), making it even more difficult to find treatment options for each person. Researchers hope the images will show a connection between symptoms and abnormalities in the brain that could help doctors identify treatment protocols and recovery timelines.

To image the brain, the researchers place a cap, similar to a swim or bathing cap, on the top of the head. The cap contains small lights that have sensors connected to a computer. When researchers turn on the lights, they can monitor and measure brain activity. The device is noninvasive and portable.

If this new technology proves to be an effective tool for monitoring injury and recovery timelines, the researchers hope to see the technology widely used in concussion treatment clinics and sports facilities.