Contact in Sports May Lead to Differences In The Brains Of Young, Healthy Athletes

People who play contact sports show changes to their brain structure and function, with sports that have greater risk of body contact showing greater effects on the brain, a new study has found.

Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital performed preseason brain scans of 65 varsity athletes — 23 from collision sports (with routine, purposeful body-to-body contact), 22 from contact sports (where contact is allowed, but is not an integral part of the game) and 20 from non-contact sports.

They found that the athletes in collision and contact sports had differences in brain structure, function and chemical markers typically associated with brain injury, compared to athletes in non-contact sports.

Their findings were published online today in the journal Frontiers of Neurology.

Lead author Dr. Nathan Churchill, a post-doctoral fellow in St. Michael’s Neuroscience Research Program, said there was growing concern about how participation in contact sports may affect the brain.

Most of the research in this area has focused on the long-term effects for athletes in collision sports, such as football and ice hockey, where players may be exposed to hundreds of impacts in a single season. Less is known about the consequences of participating in contact sports where body-to-body contact is permitted, but is not purposeful, such as soccer, basketball and field hockey.

This study looked at both men and women from a variety of sports, and found progressive differences between the brains of athletes in non-contact, contact and collision sports.

This included differences in the structure of the brain’s white matter — the fibre tracts that connect different parts of the brain and allow them to communicate with one another. Athletes in sports with higher levels of contact also showed signs of reduced communication between brain areas and decreased activity, particularly within areas involved in vision and motor function, compared to those in non-contact sports, such as volleyball.

However, these differences do not reflect significantly impaired day-to-day functioning, said Dr. Tom Schweizer, head of the Neuroscience Research Program and a co-author of the paper, noting that the athletes in this study did not report significant health problems and were all active varsity athletes.

He said this study fills an important gap in understanding how contact affects healthy brains, as a step toward better understanding why a small number of athletes in contact sports show negative long-term health consequences.

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NFL Announces Winners of Second Head Health Tech Challenge

The National Football League (NFL) and Football Research, Inc. (FRI) today announced the winners of HeadHealthTECH Challenge II, which invited proposals for improvements in football protective equipment including helmets and related technologies, turf systems, shoulder and other pads, and additional innovative concepts.

Launched in November 2016, the TECH Challenge series is operated and managed on behalf of FRI by Duke University’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (Duke CTSI).

“The TECH Challenge series is designed to identify promising innovations that improve sports safety,” said Jeff Miller, NFL Executive Vice President of Health and Safety Initiatives. “This effort not only provides finalists with needed funding to advance these technologies, but all of those who submit proposals also receive invaluable mentorship and feedback from our partners at Duke CTSI.”

FRI awards the most promising TECH Challenge proposals with a cumulative value of up to $1 million a year, including in-kind support. For TECH Challenge II, a panel of expert judges selected by Duke CTSI, in collaboration with FRI, reviewed and provided feedback on 85 proposals all focused on improved protective equipment. Every TECH Challenge applicant is invited to reapply and receives constructive feedback from Duke CTSI biomechanical experts to help refine innovations and increase chances for success on future submissions.

TECH Challenge II Winners:

  • 2ND Skull—Pittsburgh, PA— received a grant of $100,000 to further evaluate the effectiveness of the 2nd Skull® skull cap in reducing impact forces and developing a second-generation version.
  • Baytech Products—Asheville, NC— received a grant of $178,000 to build and test its prototype HitGard® multi-component helmet system concept.
  • Windpact—Leesburg, VA— received a grant of $148,000 to support prototyping and testing of its Crash Cloud™, an impact liner system using restricted air flow and foam in helmets and protective gear.

“We want to help these and all innovators who participate in the TECH Challenges to succeed—stimulating the marketplace and raising the bar for sports safety,” said Barry Myers, MD, PhD, MBA, Director of Innovation Duke CTSI, Coulter Program Director and Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Duke University and a consultant to the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). “We’re excited about the technologies that surfaced in TECH Challenges I and II, and look forward to discovering and advancing even more innovations with TECH Challenge III.”

The HeadHealthTECH Challenge series is one component of the Play Smart. Play Safe. Engineering Roadmap—a $60-million comprehensive plan funded by the NFL and managed by FRI to create incentives for sporting goods companies, as well as other manufacturers, small businesses, entrepreneurs, and universities from around the world to develop improved helmets and protective equipment in the next two to four years.

TECH Challenge III is open for submissions through September 29, 2017. Information about TECH Challenges and the process for making a submission can be found at:www.PlaySmartPlaySafe.com/HeadHealthTECH. TECH Challenge III winners are expected to be announced in early 2018.

Winners of TECH Challenge I, announced in April 2017, include VyaTek Sports for its highly efficient energy-absorbing Zorbz technology and Guardian Innovations for its Guardian Cap technology—a soft helmet cover designed to reduce the severity of impacts.

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Aaron Hernandez Diagnosed with Stage III CTE at Brain Bank

The Concussion Legacy Foundation sent the following out today:

“Aaron Hernandez’s family announced today that the former NFL tight end was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A neuropathological examination of Hernandez’s brain was conducted by Dr. Ann McKee, Professor of Pathology and Neurology at Boston University School of Medicine, Director of BU’s CTE Center and Chief of Neuropathology at the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank. Hernandez’s CTE was diagnosed as Stage III (out of IV); Stage IV is the most severe.

“The diagnosis was confirmed by a second VA Boston Healthcare System (VABHS) neuropathologist. In addition, Hernandez’s had early brain atrophy, or shrinkage, and large perforations in the septum pellucidum, a central membrane.”

 

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