The big­gest help yet in pre­vent­ing foot­ball con­cus­sions: Wood­peck­ers?

▶ An anti-con­cus­sion col­lar draws in­spi­ra­tion from wood­peck­ers ▶ “The mar­ket is gi­ant. It’s a huge un­met clin­i­cal need”

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Contents -

The doc­tors who dis­cov­ered that foot­ball can cause brain dam­age are the he­roes of Con­cus­sion , which opens in the­aters on Dec. 25. Now one of them may be on the verge of an­other break­through. Dr. Ju­lian Bailes, played by Alec Bald­win in the film, is part of a team that’s cre­ated what might be the first de­vice to cut down on con­cus­sions.

Spoiler alert: It’s not an­other high­tech hel­met. Hel­mets are good at pre­vent­ing skull frac­tures, but they can’t pre­vent con­cus­sions. That’s be­cause the brain floats in fluid in­side the skull, like an egg yolk in­side a shell. No mat­ter how well the out­side is padded, the brain is still dam­aged when it sloshes against the sides of the skull dur­ing a col­li­sion. Bailes’s in­no­va­tion is a col­lar that lightly con­stricts the jugu­lar vein, which has the ef­fect of re­duc­ing the jig­gle room in­side the cra­nium. In Oc­to­ber, Per­for­mance Sports Group, the maker of Bauer ice hockey equip­ment and Cas­cade lacrosse hel­mets, li­censed the tech­nol­ogy; it plans to start sell­ing the bands within a year or two, sub­ject to ap­proval by the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion. “The mar­ket is gi­ant,” says Kevin Davis, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Ex­eter, N.H., com­pany. “It’s a huge un­met clin­i­cal need.”

The light­bulb mo­ment came in 2007. Dr. David Smith, CEO of Xen­no­vate Med­i­cal, had just wrapped up a pre­sen­ta­tion on wound dress­ings. Some­one in at­ten­dance sug­gested he look at brain in­juries: “If some­body can fig­ure out how a wood­pecker can smash its head into a tree and fly away with­out a headache, we’d prob­a­bly have the prob­lem solved,” Smith re­calls the per­son say­ing.

He be­gan study­ing wood­peck­ers. One of their most un­usual fea­tures is a long tongue, which in some species is sup­ported by bones that wrap all the way around the head. Smith the­o­rizes th­ese com­press the wood­pecker’s neck veins as it thrusts its head for­ward, in­creas­ing the vol­ume of blood be­tween its brain and its skull. Smith says this ex­tra fluid “works like Bub­ble Wrap” to help keep the brain from knock­ing against the skull. He was con­vinced that the same ef­fect could be re­pro­duced in hu­mans, per­haps with some kind of col­lar.

Smith con­tacted Bailes to share his

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