Research consortium that includes MCW gets $22.5 million to expand concussion study

Will allow researchers to examine the effects of head injuries over time

The Medical College of Wisconsin
The Medical College of Wisconsin

A comprehensive concussion study led by the Medical College of Wisconsin, Indiana University School of Medicine and the University of Michigan has received a $22.5 million boost in funding from the U.S. Department of Defense and the NCAA. 

Michael McCrea, professor of neurosurgery and co-director of the Center for Neurotrauma Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin

The new funding will allow researchers, who to date have collected data on more than 39,000 student-athletes and cadets, to examine the effects of head injuries over several years.

The first phase of the study, which launched in 2014 with a $30 million grant from the NCAA and DOD, focused on the acute effects of concussions. Researchers evaluated concussed participants with a sequence of tests in the immediate hours, days and weeks after the injury, then compared the results with baseline tests administered at the start of the study.

The new phase will include comprehensive testing of the participants when they leave college and up to four years after their collegiate sports or service academy career has ended. It will allow researchers to study the intermediate and cumulative effects of concussion and repetitive head impact exposure.

Researchers hope to differentiate between the effects of concussion, repetitive head impact and sports participation with no history of either concussion or repetitive head impact exposure.

The NCAA is providing $12.5 million in funding over two years for the second stage of research. The Department of Defense has approved a two-year grant of nearly $10 million.

Of the study’s sample of 39,000 participants, the largest sample of concussions ever researched in a single study, more than 3,300 have experienced concussions.

Evaluations will include clinical tests to assess attributes such as balance and memory, along with changes to participants’ psychological health. The study will examine if concussions and repetitive head impacts play a role in depression, anxiety and emotional control.

Researchers will also continue to conduct advanced research tests, including genetic analysis, brain imaging and blood tests to measure biomarkers associated with inflammation and nervous system dysfunction. The advanced research tests could help identify genes and other objective markers that cause an athlete or cadet to be more or less susceptible to concussion or injury from repetitive head impacts.

“We have gathered important information about the short-term effects of concussions over the past few years, but there is still a lot we do not understand about how our brains respond to different types of impact over time,” said Thomas McAllister, chair of the department of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine and the leader of the study’s administrative and operations center. “By comparing these groups across multiple years, we think we can parse out the effects of concussions, versus repetitive head impacts, versus normal life at a university. This is critical for us to make informed decisions that protect our athletes, members of the military and other members of our communities.”

Among the study leaders is Michael McCrea, professor of neurosurgery and co-director of the Center for Neurotrauma Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He leads the advanced research core, which includes head impact sensor technologies, advanced neuroimaging and biological markers that include detailed genetic testing.

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