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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Playing Football Before Age 12 Could Have Long-term Health Effects

Playing American football before the age of 12 may have long-term consequences for players’ mood and behavior, according to a study involving 214 professional and amateur football players, published in the open access journal Translational Psychiatry.

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine, USA found that football players who started playing before age 12 had more than twice the odds for clinical impairment in executive function (including analyzing, planning, and organizing tasks), regulating their behavior, and apathy, compared to players who started playing at age 12 or later. They also had more than three times the odds for depression. The effects appear to apply to players of all ages and levels of education, no matter how long they had played for (duration) and whether they were professional or amateur players (level of play).

Dr Robert Stern, the corresponding author of the study said: “Overall, our study provides further evidence that playing American football before age 12, and being hit in the head repeatedly through tackle football during a critical time of brain development, is associated with later-life problems with mood and behavior.”

This is the first study to show a relationship between age of first exposure to football and clinical dysfunction in a sample that included both professionals and amateurs who played only through high school or college. Previous research had only examined small samples of professional football players.

In order to investigate age of first exposure to American football and possible associations with long-term clinical implications, the authors scored self-reported measures of executive function, depression, behavioral regulation, and apathy that had been obtained by online questionnaire from 214 former American football players, who were 51 years on average at the time of the study. Cognitive function was assessed using a standardized, objective test administered over the telephone. All players took part in the Longitudinal Examination to Gather Evidence of Neurodegenerative Disease (LEGEND) study which investigates the long- and short-term consequences of exposure to repeated head impacts in athletes.

The researchers were surprised to find no association between age of first exposure and cognitive function (such as reasoning, memory, and attention) but they note that this may have had to do with how they gathered their data.

Dr Stern said: “Cognition was measured using a brief test that was administered over the telephone, rather than a more thorough, in-person neuropsychological examination, such as that used in previous research.”

The authors also caution that the findings cannot be generalized beyond to female players or other contact sports. Because this is a cross-sectional observational study, it does not allow for conclusions about cause and effect.

Dr Stern said: “It is important to note that participation in youth sports can have many benefits, including the development of leadership skills, social skills, and work ethic, not to mention the tremendous health benefits. The goal is to make sure that children can take advantage of all of the benefits of sports participation without the risk of long-term brain injury or disease. More research on this topic is needed before any recommendations on policy or rule changes can be made.”

Dr Stern added: “However, other research suggests that incurring repeated head impacts can lead to long-term consequences, and we should be doing what we can at all levels in all sports to minimize these repeated hits.”

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