University opens new research center to study effects of concussions

Thursday, November 15, 2018 - 8:17pm

The Michigan Concussion Center’s structure will revolve around three main cores: research, clinical and outreach.

The Michigan Concussion Center’s structure will revolve around three main cores: research, clinical and outreach. Buy this photo
Alexandria Pompei/Daily

The University of Michigan Biosciences Initiative recently set aside $5.6 million to fund the creation of the Michigan Concussion Center. The center, which will be led by Prof. Steven Broglio, director of the NeuroTrauma Lab, will focus on understanding concussion prevention, treatment and long-term consequences.

Twenty years ago, concussions were not taken seriously as a real injury. Because there was so little information available on the nature and ramifications of the injury, it was common for football players who got knocked out during a game to be put back in 10 minutes later. Today, though, doctors and researchers have come a long way in understanding concussions, and strong efforts have been made to improve injury assessment and treatment. Still, there remain many unanswered questions, particularly in grasping what the long-term effects are.

The Michigan Concussion Center’s structure will revolve around three main cores: research, clinical and outreach. To meet the needs of the different cores, the center has pulled together faculty members from across different University campuses and disciplines. Andrea Almeida, clinical assistant professor of Neurology, who will co-direct the clinical care core at the Michigan Concussion Center, stressed the collaborative nature of the project. She also cited the center’s unique ability to draw on expertise from all over the University to produce a more comprehensive line of concussion research.

“The Michigan Concussion Center is exciting because it will allow us to build on our strong foundation and enhance existing collaborations by unifying diverse faculty and staff across the University making U of M an international leader in the field of concussion education, research and clinical care,” Almeida wrote in an email to The Daily.

Getting a concussion can be scary. Business sophomore Kelvin Chang suffered a mild concussion earlier this semester after falling off his bike when his front mud-guard came loose. He believes the concussion negatively affected his performance in school.

“I felt constantly sleepy and lack of motivation afterwards,” Chang wrote in an email interview with The Daily. “I would go as far as saying that my grade dropped due to my concussion. I was lucky that it was a mild case and the sleepiness went away after a week. However, may it be the concussion or the sophomore slump, I have been finding it harder to concentrate on work afterwards.”

Even though Chang has recovered, he is still worried about the ways his injury might continue to affect him.

“I am still worried to this day if I am experiencing effects that I simply don't know,” he said.

Chang is not alone in holding these concerns, and long-term effects will be the primary focus of the Michigan Concussion Center, according to Broglio.

“The big question everyone is asking is, What happens 30 years later?” Broglio said. “We really want to get into what the long-term effects are. And if there are long-term effects that we have to be worried about, how do we mitigate them, how do we prevent them, what can we do on the front end, to stop the things on the back end?”

Most long-term studies on concussion effects are still in their initial stages. One current study takes college students and follows up with them every year for 30 years after they graduate. The study currently has 30 sites across the country and 45,000 participants.

Thirty years is a long time to wait for results, and Broglio said there are still a lot of questions to be answered in the short term. Across campus, there are faculty members working on safer helmet technology, improving diagnostic tools, injury management and interventions. Broglio also thinks by the time the 30 years are over, people will generally have an idea of how concussions affect people down the line.

“It’s not going to be radio silence for 30 years and then one paper done,” Broglio said. “Things will come out along the way. To be quite honest, by the time we get to year 30 we’ll probably pretty much know at that point.”

The research Broglio and other University faculty members have been working on has already started to affect policy at the college football level. Broglio hopes that his research will continue to benefit sports.

“Some of the stuff we’ve done has already influenced preseason practice rules in college football,” Broglio said. “I just think that will continue to grow, and that’s our goal. If we can’t influence sport in a positive way, then what’s the point?”