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NCAA, Pentagon, IU medical school broaden concussion research on student-athletes

October 31, 2018

The NCAA, which has been sued dozens of times for its role in handling concussions, will help fund an expanded $22.5 million study to examine the impacts of head injuries.

The Indianapolis-based college sports governing body is extending its partnership with the Department of Defense and several medical institutions, including the Indiana University School of Medicine, to take a deeper look at the effects of concussions on student athletes and military cadets.

The organizations said Wednesday the latest phase of the study will including comprehensive testing of athletes when they leave college and up to four years after their collegiate sports or service academy careers have ended.

The study began in 2014 with the goal of understanding how concussions affect the brain and identifying ways to improve diagnosis, treatment and prevention. So far, the study has collected data on more than 39,000 student-athletes and cadets at 30 colleges and military service academies. The researchers call it the world’s “most comprehensive concussion study.”

To expand the study, the NCAA is providing $12.5 million in funding over two years. The Department of Defense has approved a two-year grant of nearly $10 million.

Concussions are a major issue for university sports programs and the NCAA. Dozens of former athletes and football programs have sued the NCAA in recent years, seeking damages for injuries they said are the result of mishandled concussions. Some of the suits claim that the NCAA knew of the harmful effects of traumatic brain injury on student-athletes for decades, but ignored the facts and failed to warn students. Many of the cases have been settled or dismissed.

Researchers say the new phase of the study will look at the intermediate and cumulative effects of concussion and repetitive head impact exposure.

“We have gathered important information about the short-term effects of concussions over the past few years, but there is still a lot we do not understand about how our brains respond to different types of impact over time,” said Dr. Thomas W. McAllister, chair of the psychiatry department at the IU School of Medicine and the leader of the study’s administrative and operations center.

He said that by comparing athletes across multiple years, researchers can gain more understanding of concussion damage.

Other institutions leading the study are the University of Michigan and the Medical College of Wisconsin, in collaboration with the Uniformed Services University.

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