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Team of experts advances concussion
recovery studies with NFL, GE grant

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Summer 2014 issue (pdf)

Michael McCrea, PhD, Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery and Director of Brain Injury research at MCW, leads a collaborative team that will use its unique knowledge and advanced imaging technologies to study recovery from concussion.

Dr. McCrea and his colleagues conducted original research that clarified the time course of clinical recovery from concussion, meaning the length of time passing before symptoms of the concussion are no longer present. Their seminal paper in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, in 2003 contributed to new standards for acute concussion management in competitive sports.

Neurosurgery Program Manager Jennifer Hill and Dr. Michael McCrea are using data from local high school and college athletes to better understand concussion recovery.

Neurosurgery Program Manager Jennifer Hill and Dr. Michael McCrea are using data from local high school and college athletes to better understand concussion recovery. Dr. McCrea was chosen to lead the research core in a $30 million national initiative to investigate the acute effects and early patterns of concussion recovery.

Photo © Mark Derse 2012

The next frontier for researchers is to determine when recovery occurs in the brain at the physiological level. In their project funded by GE and the NFL, the research team will study the acute physiological effects of concussion, using noninvasive imaging methods that allow them to see changes in the brain. Their work will also examine recovery over the long term and the effects of repetitive injury. Key collaborators on the project include Shi-Jiang Li, PhD, Professor of Biophysics and Director of the MCW Center for Imaging Research, and Thomas Hammeke, PhD, Fel ’79, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine.

“The aim of the study is to advance the discovery of more objective ways of diagnosing concussion, as well as determining when an athlete’s brain has fully recovered and the athlete is fit to return to play after concussion,” Dr. McCrea said. “In particular, the proposed advanced imaging technologies that will be developed by our team will be critical, not just for this project’s success, but for future understanding of brain connectivity and function.”

The project will build on knowledge gained in an ongoing, $2.2 million study funded by the Department of Defense in which Dr. McCrea is partnering with 13 local high school and collegiate athletic programs to determine which of several  oft-used concussion screening tools is most valid and reliable. Student-athletes participating in that study will contribute to the GE-NFL project as well.

The NFL and GE founded the Head Health Challenge to improve the safety of athletes, members of the military, and society overall by supporting research into the diagnosis and treatment of mild traumatic brain injury, or concussion.  More than three million people suffer a concussion every year.

“These studies hold the promise of advancing brain science in important ways,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell . “The health and safety of our players is our top priority, and this challenge extends that commitment to the general population as well. We hope the innovative approaches proposed by these winners will have a lasting impact on the treatment of head injuries.”

The Head Health Challenge is part of a Head Health Initiative, a four-year, $60 million collaboration between GE and the NFL to speed diagnosis and improve treatment for mild traumatic brain injury. The initiative includes a four-year, $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 targeted treatment therapy for patients with mild traumatic brain injury.

“By advancing the work of these winners, we will better understand brain injuries suffered by athletes and members of the military and improve our knowledge of the brain overall, which could help improve our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” said Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures.

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