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With the launch of their Head Health Initiative in 2013, the NFL and GE have helped to make positive strides to improve the health and safety of athletes at all levels. The initiative is a four-year, $60 million collaboration to aid in the prevention, detection and management of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) as well as concussions. According to Forbes, the initiative is at least partly due to the increasing number of lawsuits filed against the NFL by former players who have suffered concussions. A CDC study is likely to be a factor, because it revealed that emergency departments in the U.S. treated 173,000 TBIs in 2010, including concussions as a result of sports and recreation among those 19 years of age or younger.

To date, there have been some promising advances by organizations that have received funding from the initiative. Quanterix, a Massachusetts-based diagnostic company, has been using its blood biomarker analyzer to detect and quantify tau protein biomarkers. According to Quanterix CEO Kevin Hrusovsky, “when the brain experiences any kind of trauma, whether caused by a hit on the sidelines at a sporting event or someone impacted during combat while serving in the military, minuscule quantities of protein enter the blood stream. Our technology is the only one sensitive enough to measure these proteins in a way that no one thought possible.” This technology can be used to understand and quantify the long-term effects of TBIs.

In addition to Quanterix, BrainScope, a diagnostics company out of Maryland, recently received FDA clearance for a smartphone-based EEG device to detect TBIs. Furthermore, the NFL and GE are interested in a UC Santa Barbara lab using MRI scans to identify damage to individual brain connections and determine which brain areas become disconnected following an injury. The goal is to develop software to help with TBIs.

In the next phase of the initiative, Under Armour and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have joined GE and the NFL to find preventative measures that can be used during sports activities. This phase will focus on next-generation materials that can better absorb or dissipate energy in protective gear.

For more information, see NFL and GE.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Football Lineup, Flickr)