Friday, February 8, 2013

The NFL and GE Partner in Brain Injury Study

In recent years there has been a sharp increase in the public’s awareness of the potential for traumatic brain injury in certain contact sports.  Unfortunately, not much is known yet about acute traumatic brain injury.  In order to protect athletes more effectively we need to know a lot more, starting with accurate diagnosis.

Fortunately, progress may come soon.  Starting next month, the NFL will partner with General Electric in a $30 million effort to learn how to diagnose and track the time course of traumatic brain injury, according to an article in the New York Times and on the NFL’s website.   GE will focus on the development, refinement, and validation of imaging techniques such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).   MRI is already being used to study multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease, but its usefulness in diagnosing head injury has not been proven.  The goal would be to be able to diagnose and quantify the extent of an acute brain injury quickly and then to track the time course of recovery, so that better decisions could be made regarding when an athlete could safely return to the field of play.  Imaging techniques might also be used to accurately diagnose chronic traumatic brain disease.  The NFL and GE expect their joint effort to show significant progress within 4 years.

The ability to diagnose and track the extent of brain injury would be useful beyond sports, of course.  Many soldiers have suffered acute traumatic brain injury during combat, and traumatic brain injury is a leading cause of death among children and young adults.

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