Sports-related concussions have become a subject of deep concern in recent years, with Congress holding hearings on the issue, retired players suing sports leagues for alleged damage they've suffered, and new research pointing to degeneration in injured athletes' brains over time.
Now, in an effort to better understand the long-term consequences of sports-related concussions, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is funding a study by a consortium of researchers who will examine the effects of head injuries on student-athletes over the course of their college careers and beyond.
The National Sport Concussion Outcomes Study Consortium will be led by experts from the UCLA Brain Injury Research Center, the University of Michigan, the Medical College of Wisconsin and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The NCAA will provide $400,000 to begin funding the logitudinal study.
"There is growing concern about the cumulative effect of concussions on long-term cognitive health, and yet our current understanding of what factors contribute to later problems is inadequate," said Dr. Christopher Giza, the study's principal investigator at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA, where he is an associate professor of pediatric neurology and neurosurgery. "One major goal of this research is to identify these factors so that the risks for chronic problems can be minimized."
UCLA will be directly involved in the design and execution of the study, the data collection and management, and the analysis and dissemination of the results. At UCLA, the study will involve collaborations between specialists in pediatric neurology, sports medicine, neuropsychology and neurosurgery.
As part of the study, researchers will evaluate more than 1,000 male and female college athletes competing in 11 sports, both contact and non-contact, in an attempt to study the short-term and long-term effects of concussions.
The study will involve the use accelerometer technologies inside football helmets to gather data on the head-impact dynamics associated with concussions in athletes. Giza said a new mouth guard also is being developed by the company X2 Impact that can sense and record head impacts and will allow researchers to include additional sports in which helmets are not worn.
"The mouth guards will open the door to studies in a much broader range of sports, such as soccer, basketball and field hockey, as well as better comparisons between male and female athletes," Giza said.
Researchers plan to track the athletes after their college careers end and examine the long-term effects of head injuries with the goal of gaining a more comprehensive understanding of traumatic brain injuries.
Those long-term effects recently led to heated discussions after autopsies on deceased players in contact sports revealed the development of a degenerative condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The study will begin this summer. The consortium is also seeking funding to expand the effort and begin enrolling athletes as early as high school, so that reseearchers can follow them through college and even into professional careers.
The UCLA Brain Injury Research Center, part of the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery, maintains a comprehensive basic and clinical scientific program in the field of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Its scientists conduct research into imaging, neurophysiology, molecular biology, modeling and behavioral neuroscience in order to apply this knowledge toward understanding the neurobiology of human TBI.