Boston Children’s Hospital receives $14.7M grant from NFL to examine 20-year neurologic health outcomes in former NFL players

The 5-year project will also investigate diagnosis, treatment and prevention of CTE


BOSTON (November 15, 2018) — Boston Children’s Hospital has received $14.7 million from the National Football League to study former NFL players and the potential long-term neurologic health consequences of concussions and sub-concussive injuries. The study will also look at potential treatments and therapeutic strategies.


The research team will be led by William Meehan, MD, of Boston Children’s Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center, in collaboration with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Medical College of Wisconsin, and University Orthopedic Center - State College, PA.  Combined with results of a survey conducted in 2001, the project will give a prospective view of health outcomes over a 20-year span.


Concern has been growing in medical, football, and other sports communities that repetitive concussions sustained during play may lead to chronic neurologic health problems later in life. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a pathological condition defined as abnormal tau proteins in the brain — has been reported in post-mortem studies of former NFL football players.


“There is a pressing need for data-driven approaches to better understand the risk, incidence, characteristics, progression, and treatment of neurologic health problems faced by former NFL players,” says Meehan, the study’s principal investigator.  “A data-driven approach is also needed to determine the potential effects of sport-related concussions and sub-concussive blows — including the potential for CTE.”


The study will track former NFL players, including up to 2,500 that were previously surveyed in 2001, with annual follow-up health assessments. Some former players will undergo repeated, detailed in-person research evaluations. The researchers will assess for associations between clinical outcomes, abnormal tau buildup, as well as examine other risk factors for neurologic health outcomes.


Preventing neurologic complications


Simultaneously, building on previous basic science research from Boston Children’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the project will conduct preclinical laboratory studies to investigate several potential therapies for preventing neurologic health problems, including CTE, and for slowing their progression. The most effective therapies will then be translated into clinical intervention studies for former football players identified as being at risk.


Researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital have been investigating the acute and chronic effects of sport-related concussions and sub-concussive blows on neurologic health over a decade.


“This new study is part of a continued effort to improve player safety and quality of life for athletes of all ages,” says Meehan.


Kevin Guskiewicz, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kun Ping Lu, MD, PhD and Xiao Zhen Zhou, MD, both of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Michael McCrea, PhD, of the Medical College of Wisconsin and Ruben Echemendia, MD, of University Orthopedic Center - State College, PA are co-principal investigators on the study.


About Boston Children’s Hospital

Boston Children’s Hospital, the primary pediatric teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, is home to the world’s largest research enterprise based at a pediatric medical center. Its discoveries have benefited both children and adults since 1869. Today, more than 3,000 scientists, including 8 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 18 members of the National Academy of Medicine and 12 Howard Hughes Medical Investigators comprise Boston Children’s research community. Founded as a 20-bed hospital for children, Boston Children’s is now a 415-bed comprehensive center for pediatric and adolescent health care. For more, visit our Vector and Thriving blogs and follow us on social media @BostonChildrens@BCH_InnovationFacebookand YouTube.


About the Scientific Advisory Board

Through the NFL’sPlay Smart. Play Safe initiative, $40 million in funding was allotted for medical research, primarily dedicated to neuroscience. The NFL assembled a Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) comprising leading independent experts, doctors, scientists and clinicians to develop and lead a clear process to identify and support compelling proposals for scientific research. The SAB is chaired by Peter Chiarelli, U.S. Army General (Retired), former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, and former CEO of One Mind, a brain research-related non-profit organization.



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