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May 15, 2017

CHOP, Penn teaming up to study sports-related concussions in teens

Researchers will develop updated assessment guides and recommend improvements to protective gear

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania will soon launch a multi-year study aimed at developing more objective measures for the diagnosis of sports-related concussions in teenagers.

Bringing together experts in medicine, engineering and neuroscience, the five-year study will examine concussion assessment strategies using data from the lab, clinic and field. The goal of the investigation, in addition to enhancing methods for accurate diagnosis, will be to lay the groundwork to create better headgear and protective equipment in various sports.

The focus of the research will be on translating objective metrics – such as activity, balance, neurosensory processing and cerebral blood flow – for practical use. Brain function in teenage boys and girls between the ages of 14-18 years old will serve as the basis for the bulk of the study, with parallel lab studies on pigs to help researchers replicate assessment conditions in a controlled environment.

“To truly advance the science and answer the complex questions around concussion(s) requires us to integrate protocols that will involve multiple disciplines and methods, instrumenting athletes on the field, using animal models in the laboratory and in-depth clinical observation of patients with concussion,” says Dr. Kristy Arbogast, co-scientific director of the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP. “We’ll develop evidence-based criteria that can inform policy, equipment design and clinical practice.”

One objective of the study is to update guidelines for estimating recovery time and determining how quickly young athletes can return to play. Factors including repeated exposures, direction of head motion and sex-specific risk will all be incorporated into a refined set of recommendations provided at the conclusion of the study.

Teens participating in the study will be equipped on the field with head impact sensors, which will collect impact data for comparison to both control participants and the findings on animal head movement in the lab.

Such metrics can be used to develop benchmarks for understanding the effects of sub-concussive hits, the magnitude and direction of head motion and how gender impacts the time course of symptoms.

Further analysis of data from each sport will help researchers pinpoint the risk level for concussions at various positions, offering a window into how protective gear can be adapted for maximum safety.

Research participants will be drawn from The Shipley School, a co-ed independent school in Bryn Mawr, and from CHOP's Concussion Care for Kids: Minds Matter program, which annually serves 2,500 patients across the Delaware Valley.

Funding for the study will come from a $4.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health.

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