Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tackling the Diagnosis of Concussions NFL and Ge Pass a $300,000 Grant to Upmc to Test Imaging Technology on Athletes with Head Injuries

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Tackling the Diagnosis of Concussions NFL and Ge Pass a $300,000 Grant to Upmc to Test Imaging Technology on Athletes with Head Injuries

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- Roger Goodell kept talking about Pittsburgh. The National Football League commissioner visited there last summer, meeting with doctors at the UPMC Sports Medicine concussion program, and he was taken aback by the treatments that are already available at the country's largest center of its kind.

"Extraordinary," Mr. Goodell said.

Thursday morning, on the sixth floor of the midtown Manhattan skyscraper that houses NFL headquarters, Mr. Goodell stood behind Michael Collins, director of UPMC's concussion program, and two other scientists at the front of a large conference room. They were gathered to announce the 16 winners in the first stage of the $20 million "Head Health Challenge," through which each of the chosen institutions, UPMC among them, will receive a $300,000 award to advance their research in speeding up diagnosis and improving treatment for mild traumatic brain injury with financial backing from the NFL and General Electric Co.

From more than 400 entries spanning 27 countries, UPMC was one of three picked to explain their research to the public and generate excitement about the initiative. For Mr. Collins, who arrived at UPMC in 2000 with little fanfare, it was a moment that showed how far he and his team have come and, at the same time, the daunting journey ahead in understanding the body's most complex and understudied organ.

"We had a press conference at the Steelers building the day we arrived," he said, "and everyone there was like, 'What the hell are these guys doing here?' What I said that day was that we're going to make Pittsburgh ground zero for this injury, and we have. I'm very proud of our program and what we've accomplished, and, yeah, I'm proud of the fact that we're from Pittsburgh, a very special place when it comes to medical research."

Like the other 15 winners, UPMC will have a specific goal in mind as it uses the grant during the next year. Researchers will assess whether a powerful imaging technology called high-definition fiber tracking (HDFT) -- developed by Walter Schneider, a UPMC professor of psychology and neurological surgery -- can identify concussions and subsequent recovery in a newly injured athlete in order to safely return him or her to the field of play.

The project will study 50 or more athletes ages 13 to 28 who seek care at UPMC within seven days of sustaining a head injury. In addition to undergoing the usual assessments, patients will have an HDFT scan when first joining the study and another when they are cleared to play.

HDFT scans go deeper than conventional imaging, revealing what Mr. Collins referred to as the "white matter" of the brain. There are billions of neural connections in 40 major fiber tracts in the human brain, comprising the information cables of the mind. Conventional imaging does not show subtle damage that can be caused by a mild traumatic brain injury. …

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