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Research & Innovation | Overview

Boston Children's Hospital is actively involved in conducting research into the causes of, and best treatments for, childhood brain and head injury. Recent areas of research include the following:

Research grants

Neurological outcomes in former NFL players and implications for young athletes

We are investigating 1) ways of diagnosing CTE during life and 2) several treatments with the potential to improve health and quality of life for former players and young athletes. In addition, as part of this five-year study we are assessing the association between concussion, sub-concussive blows, CTE, and clinical outcomes. We hope to provide former players, current athletes, coaches, and parents more clarity on the potential relationship between concussive brain injury and long-term health outcomes.

Through this research, we aim to help former NFL players experiencing neurological issues and develop knowledge that will help young athletes who play football and other high-impact sports.

Return-to-learn practices in Massachusetts

Alex Taylor, PsyD, director of neuropsychology at the Brain Injury Center, led this Kettering Family Foundation grant study to describe current return-to-learn (RTL) practices following concussion to help identify training needs within primary and secondary school populations in Massachusetts. Results of the study found that despite serving children at different developmental stages, school RTL practices are essentially the same in primary and secondary schools, highlighting the need for standardized, developmentally appropriate RTL plans, and additional education for the providers and school personnel who implement them.

Cost-effective management of mild traumatic brain injury

Alex Taylor, PsyD, led research on a Provider and Payor Quality Initiative (PPQI) grant study to review the management of minor blunt head trauma in children at tertiary care centers, given that relatively few children have traumatic brain injury (TBI) and even fewer require acute interventions. Based on findings of the study, the team proposed a three-pronged approach to decreasing the cost of care of these children and reducing the exposure to radiation from computed tomography (CT), while enhancing the quality of care.

  • to implement an evidence-based guideline (EBG) for initial CT decision-making for children presenting to the ED with minor blunt head trauma
  • to implement an EBG for management of children with isolated skull fractures and to describe variability in current management
  • to design a collaborative care model between Boston Children’s Hospital and primary care providers in community-based networks to coordinate and improve the care for children diagnosed with concussion

Laboratory studies

Effects of anesthesia on pediatric surgical patients with a history of concussion

Anesthesiologist Lynne Ferrari, MD, is conducting research to determine the incidence of symptomatic pediatric concussion, either known or unrecognized, in patients sustaining an orthopedic injury that requires surgical repair, and to examine the possible effects of anesthesia on postoperative symptoms.

Relationship of vital signs to symptom burden and recovery following concussion

Neuropsychologist Alex Taylor, PsyD, is conducting research to determine if vital signs obtained in the Emergency Department for patients presenting with concussion predict initial symptom burden or recovery time.

Post-traumatic headache (PTH) in children: Alterations of brain function, blood flow and inflammatory processes

Michael J. O'Brien, MD, director of the Boston Children’s Sports Concussion Clinic, is co-investigator on a study of MRI in patients with concussions that compares them to healthy subjects to identify acute changes and findings that indicate recovery.

Prospective cohort study of athletes with sport-related concussions

Michael J. O'Brien, MD, is co-investigator on this multicenter study of factors related to recovery from sport-related concussion, such as cognitive rest, physical rest, cognitive and stimulant medications, and loss of consciousness, in determining prognosis.

Effects of anesthesia on pediatric surgical patients with a history of concussion

Michael J. O'Brien, MD, is co-investigator on a two-part project studying the incidence of concussion (diagnosed and previously undiagnosed) in patients with sports-related injuries who require surgery. Patients who are identified with a concussion will be monitored for symptoms and have neurocognitive testing before and after anesthesia to determine if anesthesia prolongs recovery or has any other adverse effects on recovery.

Factors affecting concussion recovery

David Howell, MD, is investigating specific factors that may contribute to a recovery time of more than a month after a sport-related concussion. The research aims to identify factors associated with longer recovery time soon after injury to help guide clinicians when making decisions about patient care.