NFL funds study of the brain's white matter after concussions

September 27th, 2012
Neurologists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have received funding to study the brain following repeat concussions. The project is one of 15 around the country selected by NFL Charities, the charitable foundation of the National Football League Owners.

"We are excited about investigating what happens to the brain's wiring system following concussions," says David L. Brody, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology. "We're honored that the NFL has given us the opportunity to contribute to a greater understanding of the aftereffects of repetitive concussive brain injuries. We hope that this will lead to better ways to prevent and treat them."

Since 2010, Brody has headed one of seven national groups that provide clinical care to retired professional football players. The new NFL-funded project will use a type of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure damage in the brain's white matter after repetitive concussive brain injury. The white matter consists primarily of long nerve cell extensions called axons that serve as the brain's wiring system.

Last year, Brody's group published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine describing how they were able to use the same MRI method to analyze the wiring in the brains of U.S. military personnel who had suffered blast-related injuries in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There are a number of differences between blast-related injuries and repetitive sports-related concussions," Brody says. "So it will be critical to validate the MRI method in a model of repetitive concussion to help us understand the meaning of any findings we may observe in human patients."

Other institutions receiving grants include Columbia University, The Brigham and Women's Hospital, Yale University School of Medicine and the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Studies at those centers will focus heavily on damage from concussions but also will look at the effects of helmet, facemask and shoulder pad designs on airway and cardiovascular care and a sleep apnea program that focuses on NFL players.

"We are proud to support sports-related medical research through NFL Charities Medical Research Grants," says NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "These research projects have implications far beyond football, and we are committed to playing a role in helping make sports safer."

Provided by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

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