New Study on Concussions in Teenage Athletes Shows Great Promise

An exciting new medical study that has great potential for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of concussions in teenage athletes was just announced. The study is a joint effort of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and has an ambitious 5-year plan. Researchers will examine in great detail the physical responses of teenage athletes to head injuries, from the very moment they receive those injuries, through treatment and recovery; and then will create models for further laboratory study from the results of those examinations.

This will require “instrumenting athletes on the field, using animal models in the laboratory and in-depth clinical observation of patients with concussions,” says Dr. Kristy Arbogast of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP, one of the three researchers leading the study (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia).

The participating athletes in the study, boys and girls aged 14-18, will come from The Shipley School, a private school in the Philadelphia suburb of Bryn Mawr, and patients from CHOP’s Concussion Care for Kids: Minds Matter program. Athletes in the field will be equipped with head impact sensors, and those participants suffering from concussions will be monitored for “activity, balance, neurosensory processing including eye tracking, as well as measures of cerebral blood flow” (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia). During their recovery, the objective measures of the athletes’ brain functions will be compared to a control group, boy and girl athletes aged 14-18 who have not suffered a concussion.

Researchers aim to develop a database of precise measurements of a wide array of physical measures of concussion victims. They will be measuring aspects such as the magnitude and direction of head motion at the time of the injury, markers present in the bloodstream, activity levels during the recovery period, the ability to maintain balance, volume of cerebral blood flow, and the ability of the patient to track moving objects with their eyes. These measures can then be correlated with incidences of repeat concussions, length of recovery time, and the age and sex of the concussion sufferer.

Using this database, researchers hope to make great strides in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of concussions in youth athletes. Their results could potentially inform policy making, improve safety equipment design, help develop benchmarks for diagnosis, improve estimates of recovery time, and improve guidelines for determining when young athletes can safely return to play.

One of the specific aims of the study will be to precisely quantify the differences between girls and boys in experiencing concussions and recovering from them. Studies conducted in 2000, 2007, and 2011 have found that female youth athletes have significantly higher concussion rates than male youth athletes (Women’s Sports Safety Initiative). The findings of a recently completed study that were released by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons earlier this year confirmed the results of those earlier studies.

We know that female youth athletes face a greater risk of concussion than their male counterparts, and that hormones play a role in the different ways that females and males experience concussion (Women’s Sports Safety Initiative). But there is much more that is not understood about how and why females and males experience concussions differently, and how to tailor strategies for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment for each sex.

Former California Assembly Member Mary Hayashi, a leader in the effort to reduce the risk female youth athletes face from head injuries in sports through research, education, and policy initiatives, points out that “it is clear that our female student-athletes, their families, doctors, trainers, and coaches need better guidelines to help them recognize, and manage concussions. We also need better resources and that requires new research into women’s concussions to further understanding of why concussions occur at a higher rate in female athletes than male athletes, and how we can better protect female athletes from this hazard” (Women’s Sports Safety Initiative).

To this end, Mary Hayashi is directing the Women’s Sports Safety Initiative (WSSI), a special project fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The WSSI is dedicated to advancing the lives of women and girls by advocating for more research to better understand how biological differences between men and women impact the frequency and severity of concussions; why female athletes are so susceptible to sports-related brain injuries; and how to better protect female athletes from these injuries.

This new study by the University of Pennsylvania and the CHOP answers the call put forth by Mary Hayashi and the WSSI. It promises to provide a large base of sex-specific data that will help tailor different prevention, diagnosis, and treatment strategies for females and males. Potentially, the study will enable engineers to design safer athletic equipment, physicians to devise better diagnostic tools and treatment strategies, and officials to establish better safety guidelines—all of which will be more effective because of being tailored to address the biological differences in how female youth athletes and male youth athletes experience concussions.

The University of Pennsylvania/CHOP study is being made possible by a $4.5 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a division of National Institutes of Health, the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research in the U.S. The study is being led by Kristy Arbogast, Ph.D., co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP; Christina Master, M.D., a primary care sports medicine specialist and concussion researcher at CHOP; and Susan Marguiles, Ph.D., the Robert D. Bent Professor of Bioengineering at University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Sources

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Female soccer players suffer the most concussions in high school sports. March 14, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/female-soccer-players-suffer-the-most-concussions-in-high-school-sports-300422632.html

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Innovative study to leverage diagnostic measures for sports-related concussions in clinic, field. Retrieved May 22, 2017, from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-05/chop-ist051517.php

Tannenbaum, Michael. CHOP, Penn teaming up to study sports-related concussions in teens. Philly Voice. May 15, 2017. Retrieved from http://www.phillyvoice.com/chop-penn-teaming-up-to-study-sports-related-concussions-in-teens/

Women’s Sports Safety Initiative. Sports Related Concussions: Changing the game for women and sports. Retrieved March 6, 2017, from https://womenssportssafety.com/wp-content/uploads/WSSI-Report-FINAL.pdf

Women’s Sports Safety Initiative. Sports-Related Concussion Resource Guide. Retrieved March 23, 2017, from https://womenssportssafety.com/sports-related-womens-concussion-resource-guide/

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