By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Six innovative studies on identifying concussions, the severity of brain trauma injuries and speed of the healing process have been named winners of the GE & NFL Head Health Challenge.
Some practical applications from the researchers, who each received a $500,000 award to advance their work, could be seen within the next two years, said Jeff Miller, the NFL senior vice president of the league's Health and Safety Policy.
"It's not too far in the future," Miller told Reuters in an interview.
"This partnership has proven to be all that we had hoped and vastly more in terms of being able to advance the neuro sciences in ways that will lead to better protection and the health and safety of our players.
"And have significant impacts beyond the soccer field, other sports and throughout our community and the military."
Head injuries have become a high priority for the NFL in recent years.
The issue of concussion and the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on former players was intensified following the suicide deaths of Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, who shot themselves in the chest to preserve their brains for study.
In April, the league also reached a final settlement of a lawsuit brought by former players over concussions that could cost the NFL $1 billion.
Three of the winning projects, Banyan Biomarkers Inc. of San Diego, University of Montana, Missoula, and Quanterix of Lexington, Massachusetts, study blood for biomarkers that inform different aspects of concussion.
The other three, BrainScope Company Inc. of Bethesda, Maryland, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and the University of California, Santa Barbara, focus on neuroimaging tools and EEG-based traumatic brain injury detection to analyze and understand concussions.
"The lessons we are learning and the innovations we are helping to accelerate are not only going to help us and society overall around mild traumatic brain injury and the safety of the game, and improve safety for athletes across other platforms," Alan Gilbert, director GE's Global Government and NGO Strategy, told Reuters.
"We're going to learn and be able to apply those lessons to things like ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's disease), Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
"We feel that it's already happening -- partnerships we're doing right now with ALS are a direct result around this multiplier effect because we partnered with the NFL."
Miller envisioned tests being administered on NFL sidelines or at the stadium to quickly diagnose concussions and their severity.
"Blood tests on the sideline, better imaging to identify a concussion -- that's the sort of transcendant science we were hoping to capture and encourage by running this challenge," he said.
Two other NFL Head Health Challenge projects to protect the brain and to find materials that better absorb or dissipate energy in protective equipment are also ongoing in conjunction with GE and equipment manufacturer Under Armour.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)