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Army medics will soon use what's been dubbed a "brain thermometer": a mobile phone application that can, within minutes, provide health professionals data to help diagnose and measure a soldier's injuries.

What you need to know:

1. Beyond TBI. The Defense Automated Neurobehavioral Assessment, produced by AnthroTronix, includes five-, 20- and 45-minute batteries of both neurocognitive tests and psychological survey questions. DANA will not only help a health professional diagnose traumatic brain injury, but also provide valuable information that can help isolate depression, post-traumatic stress, and other neurocognitive issues, according to AnthroTronix CEO Corinna Lathan.

2. How it works. The test, similar to a video game, consists of various on-screen exercises during which a soldier's speed and accuracy are scored. Ultimately, a medical provider — potentially in theater — would analyze the post-injury test in concert with the pre-deployment baseline tests.

"In essence, measuring reaction time is like taking the temperature of the brain," Lathan said in an Army news release. "It's a vital part of the data that any health professional needs to evaluate his patient."

3. OK from the FDA. AnthroTronix, this fall, received Food and Drug Administration clearance for the technology, said Lt. Col. Chessley Atchison, the program manager for the Technology Enabled Capability Demonstration: Brain in Combat portfolio of the Combat Casualty Care Research Program. That clearance means it's safe to use; the FDA did not test its clinical usefulness. It also means providers can use the tool in the field, though the Army is not pushing it on clinicians at this point.

The tool has tested as reliable and durable in a variety of harsh combat environments in a peer-reviewed study in the Military Medicine journal, Lathan said. A Johns Hopkins researcher found in another study that its results correlated highly with the mini-mental state examination, regarded as a highly reliable cognitive impairment assessment tool in clinical and research settings.

4. More study required. The new tool will continue to be vetted for battlefield use, the Army reports, and work is underway to use it with tablets in addition to smartphones.

"Once we get it right, we're going to put it fairly far forward in the field," Atchison said.

There are also ongoing studies of the tool regarding its capacity to help assess concussions with the athletic department at the University of Wisconsin and PTSD at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

5. Other exams still required. The tool will not replace the mandated pencil-and-paper Military Acute Concussion Evaluation as an in-theater assessment, nor the computer-based Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metric used for a pre-deployment baselines. Atchison said that would be a matter of policy and doctrine changes outside the scope of the joint project. But clinicians can used DANA now to supplement that information.

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