Expanding Efforts

January 18, 2019

The NFL has awarded $475,000 to the Maine Concussion Management Initiative (MCMI), based at Colby College. The four-year grant will make it easier for athletic trainers to participate in the MCMI’s data collection efforts to determine the prevalence of head injuries among young athletes across the state.

“This funding is incredibly important for our research programs and the investigators involved in them,” longtime MCMI collaborator Grant Iverson, PhD, of the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and Harvard Medical School, say in a press release. “It brings new resources to several of our ongoing projects.”

MCMI is one of the participants in a study recently funded by a $1.5 million NFL grant awarded to Iverson. The initiative, which was started in 2009, is headed by Colby Health Center Director Paul Berkner, MD, and Assistant Dean of Conduct and Accountability Joseph Atkins, and is supported by faculty and student researchers. The team includes experts from the United States, Canada, and Australia.

The MCMI’s data collection is part of a Head Injury Tracker program that has been used for the past five years to gather more than 88,000 baseline preseason tests, more than 18,000 post-injury tests, and specific injury data on nearly 1,500 NCAA Division III, high school, and middle school students. The grant will allow MCMI to expand its reach to all 150 high schools in Maine and to possibly augment that data with information collected in Massachusetts.

“Our goal for this project is to get as many high schools in the state reporting as possible,” Dr. Berkner told the Bangor Daily News. “We have funding for basically all of the high schools in Maine, and our goal is to improve the data collection.”

The MCMI will now be offering high school athletic trainers a stipend for capturing factors surrounding concussion injuries in real time, which will provide another way to greatly increase the amount of data being collected. In addition, Colby Professor of Computer Science Bruce Maxwell developed a mobile-friendly platform for a web-based concussion assessment tool. This will allow athletic trainers to record data at the scene and describe the type of injury, the scenario at the time the athlete was hurt, and the resulting symptoms.

“The platform we use is very user-friendly and can be used by other school professionals, specifically school nurses, so there are other options for gathering this information in schools that don’t have an athletic trainer,” Dr. Berkner told the Bangor Daily News. “The stipend is to value that work, their time and their efforts around improving the health of our youth.”

By compiling all of this data, the team at MCMI hopes to identify individual risk factors for prolonged concussion recovery and help develop strategies for reducing concussions across all sports.

“The problem is that each school by itself does not have enough data to be able to effectively look at their incidence and prevalence of concussions,” Dr. Berkner told the Bangor Daily News. “Our role here is to be able to collect and look at enough data from around the state so we can actually start reducing concussions.

“And it’s not just around football,” he continued. “There’s all this energy and effort around football, but I would really like to focus on all sports and improving outcomes for all youth who suffer head injuries.”

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