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Publish date: Jun 28, 2011

NOCSAE awards grants for concussion-related studies

By Marta Lawrence

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) recently awarded $1.1 million in research grants aimed at the study of traumatic brain injuries, impact scenarios and the development of a helmet assessment protocol.

NOCSAE is an independent, nonprofit organization that sets standards for safety equipment, including football helmets used at the collegiate level.

Specifically the grants are earmarked for:

  • Development of a centric and non-centric American football helmet assessment protocol, Blaine Hoshizaki, director, Neurotrauma Impact Science Laboratory (NiSL), University of Ottawa
  • Investigation of impact scenarios resulting in high rotational accelerations with a minimal linear acceleration component that lead to diffuse brain injury, David Halstead, Southern Impact Research Center, University of Tennessee
  • Advancing the understanding of biomechanical parameters associated with mild traumatic brain injury; An evaluation of the relationships among head acceleration, brain tissue, mechanical response and diffusion imaging, Richard Greenwald, PhD, Simbex, Lebanon, NH

The NCAA recently partnered with the NFL to lobby state legislatures to pass laws similar to Washington’s Zackery Lystedt, which is named for a star youth football player who suffered life-threatening injuries after being permitted to return to play in a game following a concussion.

Robert Cantu, NOCSAE chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee (the NOCSAE committee tasked with evaluating and handing out the awards) said the grants will assist in “goal-specific research intended to provide answers to questions science has not yet determined.”

Despite a significant investment in concussion-related research to date, scientists have not determined what helmet performance threshold can be adopted that will result in increased concussion prevention, he said. “Our goal is to incorporate scientific findings into our standards to better protect against concussions,” Cantu said.

"Investment in research, like the grants recommended by Scientific Advisory Committee, provides the foundation for our work to protect athletes on the field of play,” said Mike Oliver, NOCSAE executive director. “This research will be extremely important to help inform potential changes to the football helmet standard.”

Speaking on a panel at the National Athletic Trainers’ Association convention in New Orleans, concussion and helmet experts Kevin Guskiewicz, a professor of sports science and Jason Mihalik, an assistant professor of sports science at North Carolina, said there is no such thing as a concussion-proof helmet but that measures could be taken to improve their effectiveness, including ensuring proper fit and modifying designs. Guskiewicz also stressed the importance of behavior modifications that would limit the force and frequency of impacts.

Guskiewicz and Mihalik have developed concussion protocols for the NFL and other organizations, including the NCAA, as part of their research with North Carolina’s Matthew A. Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center. The university recently received grants from the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) and the NFL to study the causes and consequences of concussions.

The NCAA has an ongoing partnership with the Matthew A. Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center. The group regularly creates educational resources for the NCAA membership and is responsible for two influential studies on concussions (Cumulative Effects Associated with Recurrent Concussion in Collegiate Football Players: The NCAA Concussion Study and Acute Effects and Recovery Time Following Concussion in Collegiate Football Players: The NCAA Concussion Study), which led to the development of the NCAA concussion guidelines.