Concussion reducing helmet technology scoring some wins
October 17, 2012 4:00 AM
James Harrison, right, and Jennifer Branin, a mother and activist for youth athlete protection, discuss the Unequal Technologies Concussion Reduction Technology Tuesday.
By Mark Roth Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
You wouldn't think a set of green, 1/8-inch-thick helmet inserts could cut the risk of concussions, but Steelers linebacker James Harrison and about a dozen teammates are ready to testify otherwise.
The inserts are made of a coated form of Kevlar, a bullet-stopping DuPont fabric, and are able to cut the G-forces from helmet hits by about 25 percent, said Rob Vito, founder and CEO of Unequal Technologies of Kennett Square, Pa., near Philadelphia.
Unequal promoted its new sports material, which also can be used for chest, leg and foot protection, at an elaborate news conference Tuesday at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown, featuring Harrison, Steelers backup quarterback Charlie Batch, the trainer for the Boston Bruins and two neurosurgeons.
Harrison, who said he has suffered concussions "in the double digits" in the past, said he has been using the inserts, which are attached with adhesives to the lining of his helmet, since October 2011. Since then, he said, he has suffered no concussion symptoms.
In a typical game in the past, he said, he might suffer four helmet collisions that were severe enough to "get your head ringing, or you get spots before your eyes or you get a little woozy and you feel like you might pass out -- but I haven't had any of that since I started using these."
Two noted sports neurosurgeons, Joseph Maroon and Julian Bailes, also endorsed the product.
Dr. Maroon, a UPMC neurosurgeon and co-developer of the widely used ImPACT test for concussion symptoms, said he has been testing the product among various high school and college athletes, and all of them have reported positive results.
Dr. Bailes, a neurosurgeon at the University of Chicago and an expert on degenerative brain disease in former athletes, said the new material is the first major step forward in helmet linings in years. While it will be important to conduct rigorous human testing of the inserts, "I'm very encouraged by the data we're seeing."
Both doctors said they have no financial relationship with Unequal Technologies, although Dr. Bailes said the company did pay for his travel to the news conference.
Vito said the company has made most of its money developing body armor and helmet liners for the military. He decided to get into sports materials after seeing a news story about a high school baseball catcher who died when he missed a throw and it hit his chest protector.
Independent lab tests show that the Unequal material reduces mechanical impact by 50 percent, using the severity index developed by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, and in particular, reduces G forces by 25 percent.
Company officials acknowledged the helmet liners can't prevent the movement of the brain inside the skull that is blamed for most concussions, but can lessen the impact that creates that movement by converting some of the physical impact into heat, and diverting much of the rest into a sideways movement of force through the tightly-woven fibers.