Heads Up for Accountability
As the nation gears up for the annual Super Bowl game, it’s worth remembering the role that professional and collegiate football plays in brain injuries, concussions, and other neurological disorders. Although league officials have taken steps in recent years to mitigate head-to-head contact between players and to assess possible concussions before returning a player to the field, much still needs to be done.
So it was somewhat encouraging to hear of the first awards granted to TBI researchers as part of the Head Health Challenge. Launched in March 2013, the challenge is part of the Head Health Initiative, a four-year, $60 million collaboration between GE and the National Football League. The initiative includes a $40 million research and development program from the NFL and GE to evaluate and develop next-generation imaging technologies to improve diagnosis that would allow for targeting treatment therapy for patients with mild TBI.
GE and the NFL announced 16 winners in the first stage of the initiative. Leading neurological research institutions, including Johns Hopkins Medical School, the University of California, San Francisco, and Weill Cornell Medical College received funding.
Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine received $300,000 for work on advanced neuroimaging techniques to study area high school athletes to learn how concussions affect blood flow in the brain. “Blood flow is critical to brain functioning, of course, but we know relatively little about the impact of concussion on blood flow in athletes,” said Brenna McDonald, associate professor of radiology and imaging sciences. University of Montana researchers Sarj Patel and Tom Rau also were awarded $300,000 to speed diagnosis and improve treatment for mild TBI. The pair are developing blood-based biomarkers that indicate how the brain reacts following a traumatic brain injury.
We would like to see the NFL conduct a similar education and research campaign for spinal cord injury. Although incidents of spinal cord injury in football games are not as numerous as head injuries, the impact of these injuries can be devastating for the player, the player’s family, and the entire community. In the years since the passing of the actor/activist Christopher Reeve, the field of SCI has lacked a high-profile advocate for funding research on treatments for paralysis. The NFL, and some of its former players who have been touched by paralysis, could fill a void in advocacy and hopefully supplement the rather meager sums devoted to paralysis research currently. Neurotechnology research teams at institutions like Case Western Reserve University, University of Miami, UCLA, and the University of Louisville are performing promising research on rehabilitation and functional restoration and any additional funds provided by the NFL and its partners would be put to good use.
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