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Youth Football Study Receives $3.8 Million from National Institutes of Health

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Aug. 13, 2014 – Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center has received a $3.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health, to continue studying the effects of head impacts in youth league football.

“While there has been increasing interest in football head injuries at the professional, collegiate and high school levels, little data is available for children who play in youth leagues,” said Joseph Maldjian, M.D., professor of radiology at Wake Forest Baptist and principal investigator of the study. “Our goal is to help make youth football a safer activity for millions of children by having a better understanding of how repeated hits to the head affect a child’s brain.” 

The Imaging Telemetry and Kinematic Modeling in Youth Football (iTAKL) study will use a three-pronged approach employing imaging, cognitive testing and biomechanical data to increase understanding of pediatric mild traumatic brain injury.

This project builds on recent research conducted at Wake Forest Baptist and integrates neuroinformatics work and computational modeling techniques developed by Maldjian and Joel Stitzel, Ph.D., chair of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest Baptist and co-principal investigator of the NINDS-funded study. 

Maldjian said the study is expected to enroll 100 to 130 children ages 8 to 12 who play organized football in the Winston-Salem area. Sensors placed inside players’ helmets will measure head impacts during all practices and games throughout a full season.

Study participants will undergo pre- and post-season cognitive testing and imaging with MRI and magnetoencephalography (MEG), a non-invasive technique that maps brain activity by measuring the magnetic fields generated by the brain’s neurons. If a player experiences a clinical concussion during the season, the same testing and imaging will be conducted as soon as possible after the diagnosis, Maldjian said.

The Wake Forest Baptist researchers have partnered with Gerard Gioia, Ph.D., division chief of neuropsychology at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., for analysis of the cognitive data.

The research team hopes that the long-term benefit of the iTAKL study will be objective data that will help equipment designers, researchers and clinicians better prevent, mitigate, identify and treat head injuries.

Partial support for the initial study, which collected data from 50 youth league players during the 2012 season, was provided by the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma.

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Last Updated: 08-13-2014
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