NFL case may create demand for Coraopolis firm's concussion testing
May 2, 2016 12:00 AM
From left: Mark Cavicchia, chief digital officer, Clarence Carlos II, CEO/chairman, and Chris Fletcher, chief marketing officer, of RC21X at their office in Coraopolis. RC21X is a startup company that makes software used to assess sports-related head injuries.
A test module, part of the web-based, game-styled brain health test developed by RE21X, requires the participant to fly a rocket through a maze-like course using the directional arrow keys.
By Kris B. Mamula / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A recent appellate court ruling upholding a National Football League settlement with retired players could be a boon to a 3-year-old Coraopolis startup that’s finding its footing in the growing field of concussion testing.
RC21X is a Web-based program that measures brain function — especially useful for football players who have experienced game-related head injuries. Company officials say the test, which measures cognitive performance over time, can help determine a player’s eligibility for a settlement from the NFL.
“The most powerful thing you can do is see trends” in brain function, said Chris Fletcher, chief marketing officer. “We compare our data to the individual. Before, it would be like throwing a dart at a board.”
In a ruling April 18, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals sitting in Philadelphia upheld the NFL’s concussion settlement with former players, opening the door to individual awards of up to $5 million depending on the level of impairment.
Injuries are thought to be the result of repeated blows to the head during play. Subsequent problems can range from concussion, which is usually transient, to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a progressive degenerative brain disease that is diagnosed during autopsy.
The NFL struck the deal with players in 2013, and it has since been revised three times. The professional football league admitted no fault but agreed to provide cash payments for players with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, severe dementia and other health problems. Thousands of players are expected to apply.
The RC21X tool contains 15 game modules, which measure neurocognitive and neuromotor performance in a kind of stress test for the brain. Each game targets a specific performance capability, measuring how well the brain can execute various functions such as speedily processing visual information or remembering as much as possible of a particular kind of information.
RC21X is working with three law firms that represent former players, and talks are continuing with three other firms, Mr. Fletcher said. One firm using the test is Downtown-based Goldberg, Persky & White PC, where lawyer Jason Luckasevic said the test alerts patients and doctors that an in-depth evaluation may be needed because of a change in mental status.
In 2011, Mr. Luckasevic filed the first lawsuit of its kind against the NFL on behalf of former players who were seeking damages for brain injuries. He praised the usefulness of the RC21X test.
“It’s a really objective test, giving us a kind of baseline of performance,” said Mr. Luckasevic, who represents more than 500 former players. “It can monitor change, like a blood pressure cuff or thermometer.
“These players are desperate to get the help they need.”
The Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing tool, or ImPACT, which was developed at UPMC in the 1990s, dominates the market for concussion testing. But C3 Logix, a head injury assessment tool developed in recent years at the Cleveland Clinic, has been making inroads in the Pittsburgh market with the backing of Allegheny Health Network.
The RC21X offers another alternative.
No test can diagnose brain injury, but a falling score over time can alert doctors — and their lawyers — that full workup is needed, which an NFL settlement requires. Paul Nussbaum, founder of Wexford-based Brain Health Center Inc. and RC21X chief scientific officer, said the company’s tool arms consumers with information about brain function.
“It gives a quick and pretty comprehensive overview of how well a person is thinking at any given time,” he said. “It’s a consumer tool — the more data, the better.”
RC21X — which takes its name from Roberto Clemente, the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball great who wore the No. 21 — employs 10 full- and part-time employees but is not yet profitable. Funding has come from friends and family of the principals. Roberto Clemente Jr., the son of the baseball player, is a company backer.
One of the developers of RC21X was George Kondraske, who was the founding director of the Human Performance Institute at the University of Texas at Arlington. Mr. Kondraske is lead architect at RC21X.
The cost of the test ranges between $1,000 and $1,500 per player, depending on the length of the contract. CEO Clarence Carlos, 52, a former West Virginia University football player, started working on the program after a friend’s teenage son died of a brain injury in 2008.
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