The National Football League, via NFL Charities, is spreading money around to help fund research into sports concussions. Specifically, the League announced Tuesday that its charitable foundation has awarded almost $1 million to study concussion prevention and treatment.
“These research projects have implications far beyond football, and we are committed to playing a role in helping make sports safer,” said Commissioner Roger Goodell.
One of the recipients was the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which will examine a new compound that might minimize the effects of a concussion.
The UAB team, led by Candace Floyd, Ph.D., associate professor and director of research in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Hubert Tse, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, will study a compound known as a catalytic oxidoreductant, which may dampen the secondary effects of concussions.
In the university’s announcement, Floyd said that when a concussion occurs “the brain suffers mechanical injury at the moment of initial impact, in which brain cells are damaged by the force of the impact. This is followed by a cascade of biochemical injuries, including oxidative stress and an overly aggressive immune response to inflammation in the brain. These secondary injuries are responsible for a large amount of additional cell death.”
The researchers believe the oxidoreductant compound will interrupt that cascade, preventing oxidative stress and shutting off the aggressive and inappropriate immune response.
“A good analogy might be a small forest fire,” Floyd said. “The original concussive impact creates a small fire that by itself only causes minimal damage to the forest. But if the body’s response to that fire is inappropriate and too strong, it fans the flames and causes the fire to burn out of control. We believe our experimental compound will shut off that response, minimizing the damage while allowing the fire to burn out on its own.”
The compound was developed by Hubert Tse and collaborators at Duke University to combat rejection in organ transplantation. Floyd and her colleagues recognized that its ability to reduce the effects of oxidative stress following organ transplant might also be beneficial following injury to the nervous system. A small pilot study on spinal cord injury showed promise, leading to the current concussion study, according to the university.
“Our share of the funding, $100,000 over the next year and a half, will allow us to ascertain the validity of this very promising approach,” Floyd said.
Other recipients included two New York universities and a Manhattan hospital.
In addition, the University of New Hampshire received a grant to “study on football helmet, facemask, and shoulder pad design and implications for acute airway and cardiovascular care in medical emergencies,” while the University of Minnesota, School of Kinesiology, was awarded a grant to study the “effects of multiple sports-related concussions on neurocognition and cerebral vascular function.”