Doug Van Pelt, PhD
Doug: Why don't you start by telling everyone a bit about how you became involved with concussion care and research.
The more I think of my journey and how I ended up doing concussion research the more I believe that I have been working towards this my whole life, I just didn’t know it. I grew up playing ice hockey and fell in love with the sport. If I wasn’t at school I was probably at the rink or traveling for hockey (thanks mom and dad!). I had an amazing experience playing ice hockey. I met some life-long friends, learned important lessons, and was able to attend a great college, partly because of hockey. But for a sport that was so good to me and provided me with so much I also saw a few of my friends who struggled because of the concussions they sustained playing hockey. I think this juxtaposition stuck with me as I finished college and began figuring out what I wanted for a career.
At the College of the Holy Cross I had a great advisor who helped me get involved with research. Initially I only became involved with research because I thought it would look good on my application for medical school. However, I quickly realized how much I loved the scientific process and how much it resonated with my love for figuring out how and why things work. With my new found passion for research and interest in the brain I took my first job working at a VA hospital outside of Boston. Working with veterans I saw a significant number of individuals with traumatic brain injuries who were already in the VA system and were younger than I was. I decided I wanted to work in traumatic brain injury (TBI) so I took my next job at the NeuroICU at Massachusetts General Hospital. With my growing TBI experience I realized I could merge my interests in sports, the brain, and TBI if I studied concussion. It seemed like the perfect combination! So I reached out to Dr. Broglio at the University of Michigan and began my PhD in 2014. I absolutely love what I do and while the path to here wasn’t always clear, looking back it seems like I was always meant to get into concussion research.
Doug: What is Synaptek and what inspired you to start this company?
Synaptek is the result of an idea that I couldn’t let go. I am inspired to keep athletes safe while playing the sport they love for as long as they can. And through my PhD work I saw the amount of hard work clinicians put into concussion care and how the standard of care practices have rapidly evolved, but their tools have not. So being a bit of a tech nerd I began to wonder, “could we make the concussion care process easier for clinicians?” Could we also improve athlete care and health?” The more and more I thought about it, the more I believed we could and the more I knew I would regret if I never tried. My goal for Synaptek is to develop a comprehensive concussion care platform that empowers clinicians and protects athletes.
Doug: What makes Synaptek unique to other platforms and concussion testing products that are out there?
I think one thing that makes us unique is that we are focused on the entire concussion care process. From baseline testing through recovery and interaction with physicians, we are looking to improve the whole process. We want to reduce the administrative burden that coincides with the huge amount of data collected. We also will be providing clinicians with a way to have real-time access to an athlete's concussion data on the sideline when it is needed most. This is also a huge asset for athletic departments as their clinicians will have the tools available to make objective and data-based decisions on an athlete's concussion status and reduce problems with mismanagement. We are not trying to create our own version of concussion testing because that is not the issue. We have the protocols, the clinicians just need to tools to help manage them. Instead of adding even more work for clinicians we want to streamline and reduce the burden of current protocols by providing a mobile digital platform. The goal is to empower the clinicians to focus on the athletes and not administration. Eventually, use of Synaptek may help us better understand and speed up the iteration of the SCAT as well.
Doug: What are the next steps for you and Synaptek?
Oh man, there are a lot of things we need to make happen. But our primary goal right now is launching or beta testing program and getting critical feedback from clinicians and athletic departments on Synaptek's workflow and how it addresses their pain. We are building this for the clinicians to improve their ability to treat athletes and ultimately improve athlete care, so it is critical that we get feedback from our end users. We are actively looking for beta testing partners to try out our prototype. It is free of charge and will ultimately help us build the perfect product so if you are interested in becoming a beta testing partner you can sign up or contact us through our website synaptek.io. We definitely have our hands full, but it is an exciting process and I couldn’t imaging not going on this journey.
Doug: What do you think are the next biggest issues to tackle in the concussion space?
Great question! I think there are three big items that concussion research will focus on or attempt to tackle next. First, I think researchers and clinicians are constantly wondering what are the best tests and methods to diagnose a concussion. So I think we will keep seeing a lot of research on the performance of clinical tests and more and more work on biomarkers and their role in concussion diagnosis. Next, I think recovery will be a lot of focus of research. We no longer recommend that individuals with a concussion be “cocooned”, meaning resting in a dark room with low physical and mental exertion. However, we are still working to understand what is the optimal recovery strategy. There is growing research that exercise post-concussion that doesn’t elicit symptoms may improve recovery. I think we will see a lot more research on developing exercise protocols and determining how exercise improves recovery. The other area to tackle is “return to learn”. A lot of us think about “return to play” - when can we get an athlete back to sport. But because may athletes are student-athletes it is also critical for us to determine when an athlete can get back to school and participate fully.
For anyone interested in more information on Synaptek or with inquiries for Kate Van Pelt please email firstname.lastname@example.org