Raleigh company says its safety cap reduces concussions

tstevens@newsobserver.comMarch 12, 2013 

PSE Technology already is marketing a gel safety cap that may reduce the effects of g-force impacts that sometimes cause concussions

TYLER NORTHRUP — PSE Technology

The NFL is looking for products that help prevent concussions and a Raleigh company believes it has developed what the professional football league is seeking.

PSE Technology already is marketing a gel safety cap that may reduce the effects of g-force impacts that sometimes cause concussions.

“I think we are ahead of the game,” said Bill Futterer, the managing member of PSE. “We have a product that already has been tested. I imagine people all over the world woke up and heard about the NFL and started designing.”

The NFL and GE pledged on Monday to spend $60 million in research on concussions, including $10 million for research into materials and equipment that prevent head injuries.

Futterer’s firm has created a product called The GelDefender. It is an 8-ounce soft cap that fits the head and can be worn underneath helmets. The GelDefender can be used with helmets for football, lacrosse, ice hockey, skateboarding, baseball and softball, and helmets for military and industrial use.

Tests conducted by the ICS Laboratories in Brunswick, Ohio, indicated the caplike device can reduce g-forces of up to 67 percent. G-forces are a unit of force equal to the pull of gravity. Military pilots experience g-forces of nine. Some football hits are 100 gs or more.

In tests designed to replicate the g-force of a football hit, the g-force reductions were from 12.9 to 14.6 per cent depending on the direction of the blow. In baseball, the reductions were from 43.9 to 74.9 per cent.

“Reducing the g-forces is good whether it is a 10, 60 or 70 percent,” Futterer said.

The GelDefender sells for $39.95, plus shipping and handling costs.

Entrepreneurs inspired

The device already is in use. Will Hunsucker, a 10-year motocross motorcycle rider, used it in competition last week in Chester, S.C. It also has been used in the field by a U.S. Navy Seal team, which gave it high marks for comfort and protection, Futterer said.

Models have been sent to the NFL, Bud Selig of Major League Baseball, Gary Bettman of the National Hockey League and Jim Rutherford of the Carolina Hurricanes.

But the Raleigh firm is not the only company working on helmet enhancement. Guardian, a company in Alpharetta, Ga., is marketing gel caps ($55) that are worn on the outside of football helmets. The company’s website says more than 8.000 players used the pads last season.

And the quest for safety is inspiring entrepreneurs. Claire Longcroft, a 16-year-old high school student in Vancouver, developed a cap similar to the GelDefender for a science fair.

The University of North Carolina’s Kevin Guskiewicz, one of the nation’s top concussion experts, said there are several ideas being considered but it was too early to endorse any of them.

“There are questions about whether these devices have an impact on the protection provided by the helmet,” Guskiewicz said. “We don’t endorse them. There is a tremendous amount of testing that needs to be done.”

The caps are designed to reduce the force of a blow, but the force of a blow is not the only determinant of whether a player will be injured.

Class-action suit

Studies at UNC indicate the location of the blow is a factor in the amount of damage done to the brain. Some high g-force blows do not cause concussions, but lower g-force blows cause injury.

Concussions are caused by the brain being shaken within the skull. The brain is surrounded by fluid in the skull. A blow can result in the brain hitting the skull. The contact can result in damage that can inhibit chemical processes in the brain.

The forces are linear – think of a baseball hitting the head – and rotational – where the brain pivots slightly from its center of gravity. Rotational forces are believed to be a major component in the severity of a concussion.

Concussions can cause many symptoms including headaches, dizziness, nausea, sound or light sensitivity, cognitive problems and emotional problems. Most heal within two weeks with rest, but for some people the symptoms remain much longer.

Researchers believe small impacts that shake the brain can have an accumulative effect and may lead to dementia and other brain-associated problems later in life.

The NFL faces a class-action suit on behalf of 4,000 retired players who say the league covered up the long-term dangers of brain injuries for years.

Several former NFL players, including former San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, have suffered degenerative brain symptoms before committing suicide.

The NFL has changed its kickoff rules and rules about contact to the head in an effort to reduce the number of concussions and the severity of concussions.

“I am very excited about the NFL and GE’s new program,” Guskiewicz said. “I worked with them on developing this and I think it can have a great impact.”

Stevens: 919-829-8910

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