Concussion expert awarded GE & NFL Head Health Challenge Grant

Jan. 27, 2014 College News - Michael McCrea, PhD, Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery and Director of brain injury research at the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW), and a collaborative team, will use their unique expertise and advanced imaging technologies to study concussion in a new Head Health Challenge funded by General Electric (GE) and the National Football League (NFL).

The two entities founded the Head Health Challenge to improve the safety of athletes, members of the military, and society overall by supporting research into the diagnosis and treatment of mild traumatic brain injury, or concussion. More than three million people suffer a concussion every year. In this first round of challenge funding, more than 400 institutions applied for a $300,000 award to advance their work to speed diagnosis and improve treatment for concussion. Sixteen entities, including MCW, were selected.

In this project, the research team will characterize and validate noninvasive, quantitative neuroimaging biomarkers of acute physiological effects and longitudinal physiological recovery after concussion. Shi-Jiang Li, PhD, Professor of Biophysics and Director of the MCW Center for Imaging Research, and Thomas Hammeke, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, are key collaborators on the project.

“The aim of the study is to advance the discovery of more objective ways of diagnosing concussion, as well as determining when an athlete’s brain has fully recovered and the athlete is fit to return to play after concussion,” said Dr. McCrea.  “In particular, the proposed advanced imaging technologies that will be developed by our team, will be critical not just for this project’s success, but for future understanding of brain connectivity and function.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “These studies hold the promise of advancing brain science in important ways. The health and safety of our players is our top priority, and this challenge extends that commitment to the general population as well. We hope the innovative approaches proposed by these winners will have a lasting impact on the treatment of head injuries.”

The Head Health Challenge is part of a Head Health Initiative, a four-year, $60 million collaboration between GE and the NFL to speed diagnosis and improve treatment for mild traumatic brain injury. The initiative includes a four-year, $40 million research and development program from the NFL and GE to evaluate and develop next generation imaging technologies to improve diagnosis that would allow for targeting treatment therapy for patients with mild traumatic brain injury.

“By advancing the work of these winners, we will better understand brain injuries suffered by athletes and members of the military and improve our knowledge of the brain overall which could help improve our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” said Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures.

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