One of the insidious aspects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) is that in most cases, the damage is not visible. The gold standard for diagnosis is a CT scan, but this is not possible on the battlefield or football field. Medical personnel are generally limited to questionnaires and concussion screening protocols.

The US Marine Corps has adopted a new product to help identify brain injuries: the Infrascanner. This is a handheld device that includes a near-infrared (NIR) laser and optical sensor, along with controlling circuitry and a screen that displays the results. Because the skull is effectively transparent to NIR wavelengths, the device is able to “see” up to an inch into the brain. By measuring the amount of reflected light, the device is able to detect hematomas: areas where bleeding has resulted in pools of blood. Hematomas can put pressure on the brain, leading to permanent damage or even death. The Infrascanner makes it possible to screen a patient in just a few minutes, and can detect hematomas as small as 3.5 cc in volume (less than a teaspoon).

By detecting bleeding inside the skull, medical personnel can quickly identify patients who need a CT scan and further evaluation. This technology will help improve patient outcomes and save lives in a variety of settings where head injuries occur.