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Ivy League, Big Ten collaborate on brain injury research

BY ANNA EGELAND | JUNE 25, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Big Ten and Ivy League, in conjunction with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, are putting their heads together to research brain injuries and concussions in student-athletes in a collaboration announced last week.

Barbara McFadden Allen, executive director of the cooperation panel, said an immediate goal of the partnership is to link the university labs and allow them to share information.

"The set of institutions involved is significant. These are some of the top research institutions in the world," she said, stressing the importance of bringing together both the athletics and academic sides of these institutions.

The cooperation committee was established in 1958 to act as the academic counterpart to the Big Ten conference and includes the Big Ten universities in addition to the University of Chicago, which was once a member of the Big Ten.

"We are excited by the possibilities of this collaboration between Big Ten and Ivy League institutions to continue our close examination of the effects of head injuries in athletics," said University of Iowa President Sally Mason, the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors head, in a statement. "It will provide an incredible boost to our ongoing efforts while reinforcing the priorities of institutional research and reciprocity between some of the nation's top academic organizations."

Geoffrey Lauer, the executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Iowa, said it is important to understand the effects of repetitive mild injuries to the brain.

"After a mild brain injury, the brain is vulnerable … it needs time, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, to recover," he said.

Each year, more than 3.8 million sports- and recreation-related concussions occur in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lauer said this translates into more than 75,000 sports- and recreation-related concussions in Iowa annually.

Kerry Kenny, an assistant director of compliance for the Big Ten, said the collaboration hopes to foster a longitudinal study of student-athletes and collect data.

"I think the overarching goals are there's a lot of information but not a lot of data," he said.

Kenny said the Ivy League and the Big Ten have discussed the alliance over the past nine months, and both have done conclusive research independently since 2010.

"Even though we differ in terms of athletics … when you really nail it down, we're the two most broad-based institutions for athletics," he said. "We have a lot of common values, so [the partnership] made a lot of sense."

Kenny said head-injury research is important because protecting the health of student-athletes preserves the integrity of college sports.

Scottie Rodgers, the associate executive director for the Ivy League Office, said the partnership will bring together like-minded institutions to get better data.

"The key is that now you're going to have a wider pool of information to pull from … and really help get some superlative data to give some insight," he said.

Lauer said sports injuries are the No. 3 cause of brain injuries in Iowa, and it is important to research brain injuries because there are so many factors to consider.

"No two brain injuries are alike, just like no two people are alike," he said. "There's just a wide range of complex issues that face people with brain injuries."


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