NCAA funds concussion research at Medical College of Wisconsin

The NCAA is providing $400,000 to a group of researchers to study the effects of head injuries in both contact and non-contact sports in athletes over the course of their college careers. The National Sport Concussion Outcomes Study (NSCOS) Consortium will be led by experts from the University of Michigan, the Medical College of Wisconsin, UCLA, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As part of the NSCOS, researchers will evaluate more than 1,000 male and female college athletes in attempt to study the short-term and long-term effects of sport-related concussion.

The Medical College of Wisconsin will be directly involved in the design and execution of the study, management of the study base, and analysis and dissemination of the results.

Researchers plan to track the athletes after their college careers end and examine the long-term effects of head injuries, with a goal of gaining a more comprehensive understanding about traumatic brain injury. Those long-term effects have recently become a topic of heated discussion among retired players in contact sports after autopsies on deceased players revealed the development of a degenerative condition known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

“We know the immediate effects of traumatic brain injury, but we are challenged in identifying those factors which lead to long-term problems,” said Michael McCrea, PhD, Professor of Neurosurgery and Neurology and Director of Brain Injury Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Dr. McCrea is one of the principal investigators on the NSCOS. “This data will provide a more comprehensive understanding of concussions, and will benefit the health of athletes in all sports.”

The NSCOS will involve using accelerometer technologies inside football helmets to study head impact dynamics associated with concussion in athletes. Another challenge in concussion research has been studying sports in which helmets are not worn. However, a new technology being utilized in the study is expected to aid that research. A mouth guard developed by X2Impact can sense and record head impacts similar to the accelerometer sensors in football helmets used during previous studies. The mouth guard provides new opportunities to examine a broader spectrum of athletics, including soccer, basketball, and field hockey.

The collaborating investigators on the study are Jeffrey Kutcher, MD, Associate Professor of Neurology; James T. Eckner, MD, Assistant Professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; and Steven Broglio, PhD, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology; all at the University of Michigan; Kevin Guskiewicz, PhD, Chair of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina; and Chris Giza, MD, of the departments of Neurosurgery and Pediatric Neurology at UCLA.

Preliminary work on the NCAA study began this summer. The consortium is also seeking funding to expand the effort and begin enrolling athletes as early as high school, then follow them through college and even into professional careers.

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