Eye Tracking: Objective Assessment for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Youth Athletes (2021-2022)


In children, brain injury is so common that it is currently the leading source of injury and death. Sports-related concussions in children and adolescents (5-18 years) account for up to 60 percent of all pediatric concussions.

Although mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is an important public health issue for both the general pediatric population and youth athletes, there are still many challenges in obtaining objective diagnoses of mTBI or quantifying the physiological implications of cumulative subconcussive (low-level) insults.

Establishing a link between the clinical diagnoses and objective diagnostic tools that are sensitive over a spectrum of pathophysiologies (from a minimally subconcussed child to those that experience many subconcussive events or are clinically diagnosed with a concussion) are crucial in developing mitigation strategies.

Project Description 

This project team will assess how head impact exposure may contribute to observable deficits in oculomotor response that can be tracked and used for diagnostic purposes. Ultimately, changes in oculomotor response will be assessed as an objective tool for diagnosing concussion and quantifying the pathophysiology of cumulative subconcussive insults to the pediatric brain.

To accomplish this, the project team will assess local youth athletes with an oculomotor assessment routine that includes reflexive (pro-saccades), anti-saccades and memory-guided saccades, and compare these data to in-season documentation of concussions and levels of impact/practice exposure.

Quantification of head impact exposure experienced by participants will require the use of questionnaires and an earpiece sensor (DASHR) developed at Duke. The sample population will include youth athletes from five years of age to the high school level.

This will be the seventh year of an ongoing longitudinal study. On a yearly basis, the team has seen a relatively low number of concussions within its study. However, tracking and combining data on concussed individuals over multiple years will strengthen the team’s ability to ascertain differences between concussed and nonconcussed populations across multiple ages and levels of play.

Learn more about this project team by viewing the team's video.

Anticipated Outputs

Peer-reviewed manuscripts; conference presentations and posters

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project team will be comprised of 2-3 graduate students and 6-10 undergraduate students. The team is open to all majors, and team leaders are looking for individuals interested finding a connection between their own course of academic study and the project. Previous team members have been from majors such as biology, chemistry, neuroscience, computer science, engineering, public policy and linguistics.

Interested students should be team-focused, willing to be independent in their research journey, enthusiastic about learning a wide range of skills both independently and in larger team environments and looking forward to the opportunity to engage with community collaborators that range in age from 5 to 18 years as well as their parents/guardians, coaches and administrative staff.

Team members will have the opportunity to engage in the IRB amendment process with research staff and faculty; participate in study design iteration and augmentation of materials for meetings with community collaborators; participate in discussing aspects of the study design during meetings with collaborators; participate in academic manuscript development/submission; engage in acquiring data in-field; engage in all data analysis aspects associated with study; and produce results and formulate discussions suitable for abstracts for academic conferences/meetings.

The team will meet as a group once a week. Additional meetings will also be scheduled to discuss small group or individual research progress.

This project includes an optional summer component that will take place from late July through early to mid-August. New team members are strongly encouraged to participate in summer research. Summer research schedules and hours may range from a full 40 hours per week to a more limited hourly allotment and will be extensively discussed with team leaders to find both an overall time frame and number of hours that meshes with each student’s summer plans.


Summer 2021 –  Spring 2022 

  • Summer 2021 (optional): Begin initial community engagement; complete participant recruitment; continue data acquisition
  • Fall 2021: Complete in-season oculomotor test; begin end-of-season oculomotor assessment
  • Spring 2022: Complete out-of-season oculomotor assessments


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available

See earlier related team, Eye Tracking: Objective Assessment for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Youth Athletes (2020-2021).


Image: Youth Football Poquoson Bulls Williamsburg Green Hornets PYFCO Mites Juniors Peninsula Virginia Va., by C Watts, licensed under CC BY 2.0

 Youth Football Poquoson Bulls Williamsburg Green Hornets PYFCO Mites Juniors Peninsula Virginia Va.

Team Leaders

  • Cameron Bass, Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering
  • Bruce Capehart, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
  • Jason Luck, Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering
  • Adam Mehlenbacher, School of Medicine-Head and Neck Surgery and Communication Sciences

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Jennifer Groh, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Jason Kait, Pratt School of Engineering-Biomedical Engineering

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Cardinal Gibbons High School
  • Durham Eagles Pop Warner Youth Football
  • Raleigh Revolution Middle School Youth Football