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Wednesday, March 13, 2013
NFL and GE Launch 'Head Health Initiative': Innovative Imaging and Technology to Address Traumatic Brain Injury and Concussions
The NFL and General Electric (GE) today jointly announced a four-year 60 million initiative to develop novel imaging technology and other tech-based approaches to aid in the prevention, detection and management of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and concussions. The overriding theme, announced in an opening video this afternoon at a press conference at 30 Rock in the GE Building, was that “the better we understand the brain, the better we can protect it”.
This initiative comes almost two months after the Institute of Medicine (IOM) embarked on a large scale study of sports related concussions, especially those in younger people beginning in grade school through adolescence into early adulthood.
An additional study by the CDC revealed that emergency departments in the US treated 173,000 traumatic brain injuries in 2010, including concussions as a results of sports and recreation among those 19 years of age or younger.
In fact, in 2012 the NFL adopted stricter rules to determine when players can return to play (RTP) after suffering a concussion.
While the growing number of lawsuits against the NFL by former players who have suffered concussions may be at least partly responsible for the formation of this joint initiative, there is no doubt that this venture will result in important research that will evaluate the effects of trauma on the brain and brain functioning.
The details of the partnership, which also include a five million contribution from the apparel giant, Under Armour, were the follow-up after an initial announcement of the partnership over the Super Bowl weekend last month in New Orleans.
The commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, along with CEO of GE, Jeffrey Immelt, provided the opening comments to the packed room at 30 Rock in the GE building. Mark Emmert, President of the NCAA, also provided insightful comments regarding the newly formed partnership. A number of team owners including John Mara (New York Giants),Robert Kraft (New England Patriots), and Woody Johnson (New York Jets) also were present for the announcement.
The primary aim of the Head Health Initiative, according to Goodell is “better diagnosis, treatment and prevention of brain injury”. He admitted that “there is a lot more to do” and that any way to “speed up” the process to “develop new technology to better protect the brain” would be in the best interests of all players– but also younger players in high school, college and those much younger”.
Goodell further explained that this initiative is clearly “outside of traditional research models, and will serve to accelerate science and research in a four year time period.” He emphasized that this initiative was “not just for football, but for all sports and may also be a way to “make our troops safer”, acknowledging that brain trauma and concussions are not just an issue in the NFL, but for all sports as well as the military.
Jeffrey Immelt then took the podium to explain more details of the two-part initiative. The first will involve a 40 million research project led by GE to better diagnose mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), and to predict the outcomes over time. The second phase will involve two separate projects, headed up by Under Armour, but available to other innovators and scientists, termed the “open innovation challenge”. The first aspect will address diagnosis and prognosis of TBI, while the second phase will focus on materials and structural design of equipment (helmets) to protect the brain from impacts. The NFL is opening this up to essentially all scientists and innovators to help address this challenging clinical issue—with 20 million in combined funds.
Lieutenant General Patricia D. Horuho of the US Army Medical Command added additional commentary to the discussion, explaining that since 2000 more than 250,000 US Military have suffered traumatic brain injuries, and that 84% of these were not related to deployment.
The CEO of Under Armour, Kevin Plank, explained that a serious issue to address is the tendency of athletes to minimize injuries and head trauma to avoid being removed from a game. Changing the culture of safety is essential in his mind.
A medical panel led by Dr. Nancy Synderman, Chief Medical Editor for NBC News, included Dr. Russell Lonser, Chair of the NFL Head Neck and Spine Committee, Dr. Geoffrey Manley, Chief of Neurosurgery at San FranciscoGeneral Hospital, and Professor of Neurosurgery at UCSF, as well as Richard Hausmann, President and CEO of MR at GE Healthcare.
Important insights to emerge from the panel included the plasticity of the brain in recovering from traumatic injury over time, as well as preliminary studies suggesting that certain genetic mutations may influence susceptibility and recovery after traumatic brain injury as well as early-onset dementia.
Areas for potential research include a search for genetic markers which could reveal a susceptibility to particular types of brain trauma, as well as developing more defined and consistent management and treatment protocols.
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