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Dayton venture creates possible concussion software tool

A Dayton health innovations company has created software to track eye movements that may help decide if an athlete has suffered minor brain injury — software that has the interest of legendary former Cincinnati Bengals lineman Anthony Munoz.

Ascend Innovations, a venture that has drawn investment and support from competing local hospital systems in the Dayton area, has developed mobile software that tracks eye and facial movements, helping to determine if the movement is other than normal or ideal.

Ricky Peters, chief executive of Ascend, and Bryan Bucklew, president and CEO of the Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association, said the software can provide clues that may be helpful in deciding whether brain trauma is an issue.

The product is dubbed “VYE.” Ascend is working with a regulatory expert now and hopes to have “version 1.0” on the market in two months.

“There are a number of things that happen that you can detect through your eyes, a number of neurological conditions that happen,” Peters said. “And when they do, your eyes don’t move the way they would normally move.”

The eye-tracking software caught Munoz’ eye.

“I think this is something that could be valuable with youth football,” Munoz said.

Munoz is a member of the NFL Player Safety Advisory Board, a panel assembled by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Members are examining ways to keep football “a great game” — but safe, Munoz said.

The former left tackle told Jeff Miller, the NFL’s top executive for player safety and health, about VYE, and set up a meeting at NFL headquarters with Ascend representatives in August last year.

“There was conversation about continuing the dialogue,” Munoz said. “I think any time that happens, it’s a real good sign.”

Picked by the Bengals in the 1980 NFL draft, Munoz played 13 seasons in the NFL. He recalled that he had at least one concussion that was “noticeable.” He wasn’t aware of others.

But it was a different game then.

“You just made sure you got back into the right huddle,” Munoz quipped. “You made sure it was the right play that Boomer (Esiason, former Bengals quarterback) called by asking the others in the lineup.”

“You just made sure you cleared the cobwebs before you got back out there again.”

Still, he thinks this kind of software might have made “a big difference” when he was a player.

“You would have known exactly what happened,” Munoz said.

Ascend worked with Dayton start-up Mile Two LLC on the software. The company has found a home at the 444 E. Second St. offices where the Air Force Research Lab is planning to open a local business outreach presence.

Determining whether an athlete has suffered a concussion can be challenging. Sometimes symptoms don’t appear until hours after an injury. Vision is just one part of an overall neurological exam.

Ascend’s product can be a step in determining whether someone has suffered “minor traumatic brain injuries,” Bucklew said.

“You can go through a whole battery of tests and there is still no quantifiable way to say, you definitely have a concussion,” Bucklew said. “You have symptoms of having a concussion, but there’s no binary issue, saying yes or no, you do or don’t have a concussion.”

High schools and recreation centers are increasingly making concussion awareness a priority.

For that matter, so has the NFL, although the league has been criticized for not doing more.

Peters cautioned that the NFL has not endorsed VYE. But other teams and organizations at all levels may find use for the product, he hopes.

The program works by a user holding a phone before his or her face. When the eyes follow a stimulus image, that action can be compared to the person’s baseline information, how their eyes move normally.

The software tells a user if one is “off” the baseline.

Peters likens the product to a thermometer. Thermometers tell users whether they have an elevated temperature. They don’t diagnose flu or infections.

Ascend, with about 12 employees and GDAHA with eight employees, share space in first-floor Tech Town business park offices off Taylor Street.

“Big people are interested in technology being done in this building right here,” Peters said.

Ascend was founded about 18 months ago to commercialize technologies from local hospitals and the Air Force Research Lab based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

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