Scribble: Detecting concussions in the blink of an eye

Is it possible to detect concussions in just the blink of an eye? Thanks to Dr. Nancey Tsai, the answer is yes. As a clinical associate professor of neurosurgery at the Medical University of South Carolina, Nancey invented a device that uses videography to detect subtle differences in the way a patient blinks. As Nancey puts it, “it’s all in the eyes” when it comes to examining neurological functions. After waiting for the technology to catch up to her idea, Nancey created the Blink Reflexometer™. Now, the portable device can be used to test an athlete for a concussion right on the sidelines, and in the future has the potential to detect other neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s, stroke, and Parkinson’s. 

In this interview, Nancey discusses her background in medicine, how she approaches innovation and problem-solving, and how she went about engineering the Blink Reflexometer. If you are considering going into medicine, or if you have an idea for a medical invention, Nancey speaks from experience to give you the advice you need to succeed.

Key Interview Takeaways:

  1. We often associate innovation and breakthroughs with the "lightbulb moment." But that isn't always the case. Nancey employs the technique of "filing away" small ideas until she can compile it all into a larger idea. Along her professional journey, she filed away various real-world needs, scientific approaches, business opportunities, and more until the technology to pursue her vision was widely available.

  2. As a doctor, Nancey needed to build a team to make her invention a reality. She connected with an engineer, who helped her to develop a prototype, but that was only the first step along the way. Nancey advises those trying to build a team to find people who: 1) understand what you're trying to achieve, 2) believe in the cause behind your idea, and 3) are rooted in reality.

  3. More than you think can be seen in the eyes. With a few puffs of air, the Blink Reflexometer (Nancey's invention) measures 20 different variables of eye movement via a high-speed camera that can be used to identify mild brain injuries. The test itself takes less than two minutes and, perhaps most importantly, the device is mobile. Nancey hopes to bring the device into youth sports to identify and treat concussions as quickly as possible. As she says, "the more brain cells I save, the better."   

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