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NFL funds concussion research

The Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, the National Institutes of Health and the National Football League are putting their heads together to study youth concussions.

Last year, the NFL donated $30 million to an NIH program that funds research on injuries affecting athletes, and today, the NIH announced that Kennedy Krieger researchers are receiving $275,000 of that total.

HelmetThe project is one of six pilot projects receiving a total of about $2 million over two years from the NIH. If the early results are encouraging, officials said, the six pilots may get more funding as larger projects down the line.

Dr. Stacy Suskauer, director of Kennedy Krieger’s Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program, is leading the study, which aims to find a way to reliably diagnose youth concussions and predict how an individual will recover.

The NFL’s $30 million donation is being distributed among eight projects (including the Kennedy Krieger study and the five other pilot projects), that focus on traumatic brain injury, which officials say is the leading cause of death among young adults.

Current tests are unable to reliably identify a concussion, officials said, and there’s no way to predict who will recover quickly, who will experience long-term symptoms and who will develop progressive brain degeneration.

Suskauer’s team hopes to overcome those issues by tapping into the somatosensory system, which provides us with information about our environment, such as how an object feels to the touch.

Because the somatosensory system may be affected by a brain injury, the researchers wonder if they could design a concussion-identification test by measuring changes in somatosensory system information processing.

The team will deliver vibrations to an individual’s fingertips (focusing on ages 13 through 17) and measure how well the vibrations are perceived. Those perceptions reflect the individual’s somatosensory system information processing.

The researchers hope that changes in SSIP will offer information about whether a concussion has occurred, and later on, whether the individual is recovering.