UI-Ivy League Brain injury summit planned for July


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Collaborative research on the impact of brain injuries sustained during athletics competition announced last year may finally begin after a summit scheduled for mid-July.

The project, announced June 19, 2012, in a Big Ten press release, aims to bring together athletic programs and research capabilities from the various institutions of the Big Ten and the Ivy League, in conjunction with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, to study the effects of head injuries in sports.

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.

“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 June 2012 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.”

“These are very, very big institutions,” said Andy Peterson, the director of the UI sports concussion program. “This is not going to be a quick process.”

University of Nebraska Professor and brain researcher Dennis Molfese wrote in an email that because the external funding process from agencies like the National Institute of Health have just began, researchers plan on working through the process for at least four years to come.

To date, he said, most Big Ten schools have committed $100,000 to fund pilot testing.

“At this point, it’s an agreement to work together, to pool our resources, and to collaborate on concussion research in general,” Peterson said. “But there’s no specific study at this point. There isn’t really a research question … and that’s the point of this meeting.”

Peterson, also a UI sports-medicine physician, will be one of three University of Iowa faculty members to travel to a summit on July 18-19 at the Big Ten’s Chicago headquarters. UI senior athletics trainer Doug West and neurology/psychology Professor Daniel Tranel will also attend.

West said he hopes new knowledge from the collaborative efforts will help prevent and manage concussions.

“I think we are always looking to prevent them, and, once they do occur, if we can better manage them so [athletes] are not returned [to play] too early, or unnecessarily held out longer then they need to be.”

He said he and other organizers are still dealing with some early questions, including what tests to use across labs, when to test during the season, how many follow-up tests to do, how to get the institutional review boards across universities to coordinate the human-subjects-review process, and how to move and store such large amounts of data at common site for all to use.

“If our questions are about long-term neurocognitive decline in the setting of multiple concussions, or if college football causes neurocognitive decline over the course of a career, those questions are going to take a long, long time to answer,” Peterson said.

Researchers in most labs will use concussion-screening tools such as ImPACT and SCAT 3, which detect concussions by analyzing behavior.

Peterson said UI athletics officials have access to concussion-detecting tools, but he noted that only a physician can diagnose a concussion.

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