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NFL Donates $30 Million to NIH Foundation for Sports Injury Research

The National Football League (NFL) has donated $30 million to the NIH Foundation to help fund research on sports injuries, including sport-related concussions and the long-term consequences of repetitive head injuries.

The donation is the largest in the history of the Foundation for the NIH (FNIH), which was created by Congress in 1990 to help raise funds from private donors and organizations to provide additional financial support for research. The NFL donation will be used to help fund a new sports and health research program into a range of medical issues, including spine and chronic musculoskeletal problems.

Although the specific details on how the money will be used has yet to be determined, neurological research areas are expected to include chronic traumatic encephalopathy, concussion, and the potential relationship between traumatic brain injury and neurodegenerative disorders in later years, especially Alzheimer's disease (AD). The FNIH hopes other donors, including additional sports organizations, will also become part of the collaboration.

DR. WALTER J. KOROSHETZ: “The NFL will now prioritize the top areas of this research. The sense is that concussion is high on the list. That was the impetus for this initiative, especially new pathological findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy.”

Specific areas of interest will include not only head injuries, but also other sport-related issues, said Walter J. Koroshetz, MD, deputy director of the National Institutes for Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“The NFL will now prioritize the top areas of this research,” he told Neurology Today in a telephone interview. “The sense is that concussion is high on the list. That was the impetus for this initiative, especially new pathological findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Representatives of the NFL and NIH will be meeting to develop a schedule for the process of awarding research grants.

CTE RESEARCH

“This is excellent news,” said Robert Cantu, MD, clinical professor of neurosurgery and co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine. “The NIH leads the field in funding this area of research, but now researchers can submit grants for new investigations and NFL money will be available,” he told Neurology Today in a telephone interview.

Studies of the neurodegenerative repercussions of repetitive head trauma need more funding, especially post concussion syndrome (PCS) and CTE, said Dr. Cantu, who is also chief of neurosurgery and director of sports medicine at Emerson Hospital, in Concord, Mass., and a senior advisor to the NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee.

“There has been work in the relationship between concussion and late life neurodegenerative disorders, but it has not been very conclusive. What we need is more neuropathological studies.”

A major problem is educating the medical profession that there is more going on in older athletes than just AD, he noted.

“There is more and more evidence suggesting that chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a major cause for many of these deaths. We know CTE is not metabolic, but structural — repeated head injuries can cause the breakdown of axons. My opinion is that no brain trauma is good; we need as little as possible.”

CTE has become a “hot area” of research, he said, and the additional funding from the NFL will help. Boston University maintains the largest research repository of donated brains from professional athletes, and Dr. Cantu and his colleagues have studied over 100 such brains.

FOR FURTHER READING:

• Foundation for the NIH: http://www.fnih.org/
    Neurology Today archive on traumatic brain injury: http://bit.ly/SpzL2J
      Neurology Today archive on dementia-concussion link: http://bit.ly/buAnRo