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MIAMI (Reuters) - The National Football League (NFL) is investing in a pair of goggles that look like a video game accessory but could help coaches or volunteers quickly diagnose concussions on the sideline mid-game.
As part of a $60 million effort to help stem the long-lasting effects of brain injuries sustained by many professional and amateur players, the league recently awarded seven projects $8.5 million, including a $500,000 grant to test Dr. Michael Hoffer's so-called concussion goggles.
Hoffer, a University of Miami researcher and former Navy surgeon who served twice in Iraq, said he realized after seeing head injuries on the battlefield that something cheap, portable and easy to use could provide a reliable way to quickly spot concussions when a player takes a serious hit.
"This device measures basic body reactions that can't be controlled, he said.
His research, which measures eye movement in response to sound, began in 2008 with a $300,000 system developed by Pittsburgh-based Neuro Kinetics Inc. Though the price hasn't fallen enough to make it commercially viable, the device is now portable and can connect to a laptop computer.
All that's left is to make it affordable and easy enough for a layman to use.
"The goal is to have it ready for prime time within a year and a half," Hoffer said.
The NFL, along with directors of high school and collegiate athletics programs, has been criticized for failing to spot players with mild or traumatic brain injuries and for encouraging them to continue playing in some instances.
Retired NFL players who sued the league over on-the-field concussions accepted a settlement last month worth at least $675 million. It guarantees any retired player who develops neurological impairments, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Lou Gehrig's Disease, payments of up to $5 million.
A spokesman for the NFL Players Association on Friday declined to comment on the league's research grant program.
Hoffman, meanwhile, said he hopes his device will enable subjective decisions about whether to field a potentially injured player to be replaced by scientific reasoning.
Editing by David Adams and Sandra Maler