Concussion plan proceeds


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Representatives from 23 institutions met earlier this month for the first time to discuss a collaboration to study sports-related concussions in the Ivy League and the Big Ten.

The meeting, held July 18-19 in Park Ridge, Ill., created two committees, one to explore funding possibilities and the other to find a data-collection method both researchers and athletics trainers can live with.

Both of the committees are to report their findings in approximately two months, said University of Iowa neurology and psychology Professor Daniel Tranel, who attended the meeting.

An estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related brain injuries occur each year, according to a 2007 Langlois study cited in the July 2013 Traumatic Brain Injury Project Proposal presented by the Big Ten, Ivy League, and the Committee on Institutional Cooperation.

In college sports, 0.28 concussions occur per 1,000 athletics exposures, with the highest risk coming from football and soccer, the proposal said.

A separate 2004 McCrea study, identified in the report, suggests athletes underreport concussions to avoid being sidelined.

Clinical Assistant Professor Andy Peterson, the director of the UI sports-concussion program who attended the summit, said the biggest point of contention occurred between researchers and athletics staff.

While UI researchers won’t lead the broader study, he said they intend to contribute to the data-collection process.

In addition to Peterson and Tranel, Associate Director of Athletics Training Doug West, Associate Dean for Research in the Occupational and Environmental Health Department Corinne Peek-Asa, and Epidemiology Department head James Torner attended the summit.

“… It became pretty obvious that the people that worked with athletes on a regular basis … had very different ideas about what types of things could realistically be done in the setting of collegiate athletics than the people who were more basic science researchers, who had very grandiose ideas …”Peterson said, noting that revising those expectations was the big thing to come out of the meeting.

“The basic tension is between student-athletes, who have way too much on their plate to begin with … we scientists and people working on the problem would like for them to be going through hours and hours of testing … so that’s the tension,” Tranel said.

In a June 2012 statement, UI President Sally Mason, the head of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors noted the potential positive outcomes from the partnership.

“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,” she said.

“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.”

Dennis Molfese, a University of Nebraska professor of psychology who has taken a lead role in the discussions, said in the July release a more firm concussion definition could eventually result.

“If we can obtain baseline/pre-concussion data and then track athletes longitudinally with all the tools and expertise that we possess, I think we can attain major breakthroughs in establishing a universal definition of concussion, better and more systematic ways to study recovery from brain injury, as well as more active and effective forms of intervention to restore cognitive and motor functions following brain injury,” he said.

Peterson said one other important question — who’s in charge?’ — is another unresolved issue.

“There are a lot of people leading the study, and that’s part of the problem,” he said.

“We don’t know enough about the long-term effect of concussions … we think people get better from them, but we just don’t know … and when you have pro players committing suicide … you have alarm bells going off,” Tranel said, noting that football may be too unsafe to play.

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