By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Six innovative studies on identifying concussions, the severity of brain trauma injuries & speed of the healing process have been named winners of the GE & NFL Head Health Challenge.
Some practical applications from the researchers, who each received a $500,000 award to advance their work, could be seen within the next two years, said Jeff Miller, the NFL senior vice president of the league's Health & Safety Policy.
p> "It's not too far in the future," Miller told Reuters in an interview.
"This partnership has proven to be all that we had hoped & vastly more in terms of being able to advance the neuro sciences in ways that will lead to better protection & the health & safety of our players.
"And have significant impacts beyond the soccer field, other sports & throughout our community & the military."
Head injuries have become a high priority for the NFL in recent years.
The issue of concussion & the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on former players was intensified following the suicide deaths of Junior Seau & Dave Duerson, who shot themselves in the chest to preserve their brains for study.
In April, the league moreover reached a final settlement of a lawsuit brought by former players over concussions that could cost the NFL $1 billion.
Three of the winning projects, Banyan Biomarkers Inc. of San Diego, University of Montana, Missoula, & Quanterix of Lexington, Massachusetts, study blood for biomarkers that inform different aspects of concussion.
The other three, BrainScope Company Inc. of Bethesda, Maryland, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee & the University of California, Santa Barbara, focus on neuroimaging tools & EEG-based traumatic brain injury detection to analyze & understand concussions.
"The lessons we are learning & the innovations we are helping to accelerate are not only going to assist us & society overall around mild traumatic brain injury & the safety of the game, & improve safety for athletes across other platforms," Alan Gilbert, director GE's Global Government & NGO Strategy, told Reuters.
"We're going to learn & be able to apply those lessons to things like ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease), Alzheimer's & Parkinson's.
"We feel that it's already happening — partnerships we're doing right now with ALS are a direct result around this multiplier effect because we partnered with the NFL."
Miller envisioned tests being administered on NFL sidelines or at the stadium to quickly diagnose concussions & their severity.
"Blood tests on the sideline, better imaging to identify a concussion — that's the sort of transcendant science we were hoping to capture & encourage by running this challenge," he said.
Two other NFL Head Health Challenge projects to protect the brain & to find materials that better absorb or dissipate energy in protective equipment are moreover ongoing in conjunction with GE & equipment manufacturer Under Armour.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)