$100,000 grant to advance research on concussions in children

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Do children suffering from concussions recover faster and have a better prognosis than young adults? Researchers in the Center for Sport Concussion Research and Service at Penn State aim to answer that question with the help of a $100,000 grant from NFL Charities.

According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 1.5 million children in the United States suffer from concussions -- mild forms of traumatic brain injuries (MTBI) -- annually. And of these, sport-related head injuries comprise more than 18 percent of head injuries in children less than 10 years of age, around 53 percent of head injuries in children ages 10 to 14 and around 43 percent of head injuries in children ages 15 to 19.

“There is controversy and discrepancy in the literature as to whether children suffering from MTBIs recover faster and have a better prognosis than young adults,” said Semyon Slobounov, professor of kinesiology and of neurosurgery, and director of the Center for Sport Concussion Research and Service at Penn State. “A widespread belief among pediatric neurologists is that younger patients recover faster with fewer long-term residual neurocognitive and behavioral deficits due to ‘plasticity’ of the younger brain. However, this belief is at odds with the notion that trauma to a young brain may prevent typical development of brain networks.”

The researchers plan to examine 12 child athletes ages 13-16 years old and 12 college-student athletes ages 18-21 years old who are suffering from sport-related concussions. They will test all of the subjects at acute (within the first two days post-injury), sub-acute (on day 10 post-injury) and chronic (on day 30 and follow-ups at 6 and 12 months post-injury) phases of the concussions. Tests will include completion of a written concussive symptoms checklist, functional MRI (fMRI) imaging, and virtual-reality testing, among others.

“Through our research we hope to acquire basic knowledge, such as why no two concussions are alike in terms of their underlying mechanisms, symptoms and resolution,” said Slobounov. “We also hope our findings will be immediately useful to injured children and their families. For example, we hope our research will lead to the proper development of guidelines for return to play after a child suffers a concussion. Currently there are no age-specific and data-driven guidelines for when a child should be allowed to return to play post-concussion.”

The goal of the Center for Sport Concussion Research and Service at Penn State is to advance research on sport-related concussions and provide services to local collegiate and child athletes in the form of baseline assessments that can aid in diagnosing concussions and tracking recovery.

NFL Charities is a nonprofit organization created by the 32 member clubs of the National Football League to enable the teams to collectively make grants to charitable and worthwhile causes on a national scale.

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Last Updated July 17, 2012