Long hailed as windows to the soul, the eyes also might provide insight for researchers at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM), who are evaluating and working to improve methods for detecting traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) in soldiers while they are still deployed.

The EYE-Tracking Rapid Attention Computation (EYE-TRAC) device being developed by Sync Think of Boston could provide a new tool in that quest. The portable device, which includes hooded goggles worn by the patient and a handheld peripheral that displays results, tracks eye movements with two high-speed cameras as the patient follows a moving target on a screen.

The device uses complex algorithms to quantify how well a subject can follow, and synchronize with, the target. The device measures attention performance -- a subject's focus. Eye-movement control provides a window to the brain and can be a reliable indicator of brain health. While desktop eye-tracking devices have been available for a decade, EYE-TRAC would bring the technology closer to deployed soldiers who suffer blast injuries.

USARIEM has teamed with Dr. Jamshid Ghajar of the Brain Trauma Foundation to do this research, which includes funding by the Department of Defense. Three-hundred-fifty soldiers will be studied at USARIEM, located at Natick Soldier Systems Center. Eye movements are captured by EYE-TRAC in a 30-second test, and then graded and analyzed.

The results presented on the handheld are easy to read and understand, and the subject's scores are compared to normative values and also to baseline performance. Significant deviations from either could potentially indicate further follow-up by a medical professional.

Tools such as EYE-TRAC may provide valuable information about brain function that, when used together with other tests and clinical observations, could facilitate return-to-duty decision-making and treatment planning.