NFL awarding more than $35 million to brain injury studies

NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 17: A view of an official Wilson Sporting Goods "The Duke" football with a New Orleans Saints team logo is seen at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 17, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — The NFL is awarding more than $35 million in funding to five organizations conducting research into diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries.

Through its Scientific Advisory Board established as part of its “Play Smart. Play Safe” initiative, the NFL is awarding grants to investigative teams focusing on concussions and associated conditions, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Receiving the funding will be:

—Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, led by Dr. William P. Meehan III, $14,698,132 to “A Prospective, LONGitudinal and Translational Study for Former National Football League Players.”

—The University of Pittsburgh and University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, $6,070,384 to its “Prevalence of Brain Health versus Neurodegeneration in Professional Football Retirees” work.

—The University of Calgary, led by Dr. Carolyn Emery, $9,438,473 to “Surveillance in High Schools to Reduce Concussions in Youth.”

—The University of California-San Francisco, led by Dr. Geoff Manley, $3,454,080 to “Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in Traumatic Brain Injury (TRACK-TBI Longitudinal).”

—The Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and Harvard Medical School, led by Dr. Grant Iverson, $1,583,138 to “The Spectrum of Concussion: Predictors of Clinical Recovery, Treatment and Rehabilitation, and Possible Long-Term Effects.”

Having awarded $35 million of the NFL’s $40 million commitment made in 2016, the league has allocated the remaining $5 million to further medical research focused on player health and safety. The funds will be distributed under the guidance of SAB Chairman Gen. Peter Chiarelli, a retired U.S. Army general who led the Department of Defense efforts on post-traumatic stress (PTS), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and suicide prevention.

“We saw their translational values,” Chiarelli said Thursday. “They supplemented ongoing research that already showed great promise. We were focused on the patient, and of the eight that we asked to come back and brief us for 30 minutes and answer questions, these five had the greatest opportunity to help patients, and to help understand and prevent injury in the future. That was our unified goal in picking the final five.”

Col. Sidney Hinds, an SAB Member and program coordinator for brain health research at the Department of Defense, praised the transparency of the search for grantees as well as the long-range effects their research can have.

“The traumatic brain community is relatively small when you look at other disease processes in comparison,” Hinds said. “Many of these groups are collaborating already, but I do believe through this SAB process, the future steps will offer another opportunity to collaborate and share information.

“I really look forward to further work and to the results these researchers will have, and to underscore the efforts they are undertaking. The results they get will not only impact professional sports but the broader general public to understand and take care of and treat concussions in the future.”

The five honorees will present evidence of making headway to the SAB in about one year. Chiarelli is optimistic their progress will be obvious.

“We felt it was important to ask each one of them that they provide deliverables at different stages in their research timeline,” he said. “We asked that we would get together and see how their research is progressing. We hope not only they get to something that will help the patient, but increase the collaboration in the field, and I think this is something that will happen with this.

“We hope to come back a year from now and see how they have been able to meet the deliverables they laid out. It’s very exciting.”