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NIH Marks Millions for Brain Injury

With support from the National Football League, the federal agency selects eight projects to receive $14 million in funding for the study of traumatic brain injury.

By | December 17, 2013

FLICKR, PENN STATEThe National Institutes of Health (NIH) is awarding two $6-million grants and six smaller awards to research teams that aim to better understand the effects of traumatic injury on the human brain. Two large cooperative agreements will focus on “defining the scope of long-term changes that occur in the brain years after a head injury or after multiple concussions,” according to an NIH statement, while the six pilot projects “are designed to provide support for the early stages of sports-related concussion projects.”

The funds are provided by the Sports and Health Research Program, a partnership of the NIH, the National Football League (NFL), and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, to which the NFL donated $30 million in 2012.

“We need to be able to predict which patterns of injury are rapidly reversible and which are not,” Story Landis, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), said in the statement. “This program will help researchers get closer to answering some of the important questions about concussion for our youth who play sports and their parents.”

The effects of repeated head trauma have received much attention in the past year. In the summer of 2012, former NFL players sued the league, claiming that they suffered neurological problems as the result of their time on the football field—health risks, the plaintiffs claimed, that the league failed to warn them about. The players even suggested that the NFL was hiding evidence linking concussions to permanent brain damage, depression, and increased suicide risk.

The case was settled in August, with an agreement that the league would pay a settlement of $765 million to help pay the health-care bills of more than 4,500 former players, while funding new research into traumatic brain injury. And just last month, 10 former National Hockey League athletes announced a class-action lawsuit against the league regarding their concussion injuries.

The newly funded NIH projects aim to shed more light on the consequences of such repeated head injuries. The cooperative awards will support the comparison of human brains that were or were not subject to such trauma, with the aim of developing better standards for diagnosis of brain injury. The pilot projects will take a range of approaches, including examining brain scans for factors that correlate with changes in brain tissue and developing a registry, called the NIH Neurobiobank, which will collect the brains and spinal cord tissue of donors with histories of TBI after their death.

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