HCMC doc­tor to study NFL play­ers, kin

Star Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By JEREMY OL­SON jeremy.ol­son@star­tri­bune.com

A lead­ing con­cus­sion re­searcher at Hen­nepin County Med­i­cal Cen­ter is invit­ing NFL play­ers who suf­fered head in­juries and their sib­lings to par­tic­i­pate in re­search that could yield new dis­cov­er­ies about the course and sever­ity of brain trauma.

Dr. Uzma Sa­madani de­vel­oped an eye-track­ing sys­tem that de­tects con­cus­sions based on pa­tients’ eye move­ments as they watch mu­sic videos, and has stud­ied how vari­a­tions in brain scans and blood tests re­veal brain in­juries as well.

Now she wants to ap­ply this di­ag­nos­tic tech­nol­ogy to NFL play­ers and their fam­i­lies: Com­par­ing the brains of ath­letes who suf­fered con­cus­sions with their ge­net­i­cally sim­i­lar sib­lings could yield clues to why some peo­ple suf­fer more symp­toms and com­pli­ca­tions than oth­ers.

“We want to ... bet­ter un­der­stand the role of ge­net­ics and

en­vi­ron­ment on out­comes,” said Sa­madani. She an­nounced her re­cruit­ment of foot­ball play­ers dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at HCMC Thurs­day re­gard­ing a fundraiser for con­cus­sion re­search at the down­town Min­neapo­lis hospi­tal. The fundraiser, en­ti­tled Su­per Brain 2018, will be held on Jan. 31, 2018, in con­junc­tion with the Su­per Bowl. It is spon­sored by NFL Alumni and the Hen­nepin Health Foun­da­tion.

“Brain in­jury is un­like any other type of in­jury, be­cause it can change who you are,” said Ben Utecht, who played foot­ball at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota and won a Su­per Bowl with the In­di­anapo­lis Colts be­fore re­tir­ing from the sport due to con­cus­sions. “Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mem­ory loss re­minds me of how im­por­tant my mem­o­ries are in defin­ing my iden­tity.” He said ad­di­tional re­search could al­low doc­tors to make “cut­ting edge treat­ment de­ci­sions ... im­me­di­ately af­ter di­ag­no­sis.”

Utecht and other ath­letes who suf­fered con­cus­sions, such as for­mer Min­nesota Twin Corey Koskie, who suf­fered a con­cus­sion in 2006 that cur­tailed his ca­reer, will speak at the fundraiser.

HCMC is al­ready con­duct­ing what it has billed as the na­tion’s largest con­cus­sion study, which will screen 9,000 trauma pa­tients and en­roll at least 1,000 for test­ing and fol­low-up eval­u­a­tions one year later.

New fund­ing will help re­searchers branch out into the spe­cific study of pro­fes­sional ath­letes. The NFL re­ported 244 con­cus­sions among its ath­letes last sea­son. Ear­lier this year, 88 per­cent of re­tired play­ers reg­is­tered to re­ceive money from a con­cus­sion-re­lated law­suit set­tle­ment with the NFL.

Sa­madani, whose son plays foot­ball at Breck High School, sur­prised some ob­servers in 2015 when she pub­licly ad­vo­cated play­ing the sport de­spite its in­jury risks. “I think, if your child wants to play foot­ball, you should let them play,” she said at the time. “It’s a risk/ben­e­fit sit­u­a­tion, and the risks are far lower than the ben­e­fits.”

Sa­madani said risks ap­pear greater in pro­fes­sional sports, although she in­tends to study am­a­teur ath­letes as well. A pathol­ogy study in Bos­ton ear­lier this year found that 110 of 111 brains of de­ceased NFL play­ers had signs of chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy, a dis­ease caused by repet­i­tive brain trauma.

“The forces are sub­stan­tially greater at the NFL level,” said Sa­madani, be­cause pro­fes­sional ath­letes are big­ger and faster th­ese days.

Utecht com­mended Sa­madani and said her re­search should give oth­ers hope for bet­ter de­tec­tion and treat­ment of brain in­juries. He re­lated one of his fa­vorite mem­o­ries: his fa­ther shout­ing to him as he took the field for the Su­per Bowl. Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced am­ne­sia af­ter con­cus­sions, he said, he no longer takes such mem­o­ries for granted.

“It made me re­al­ize how im­por­tant my mind, my mem­o­ries, are,” he said, “to the makeup of who I am.”

JERRY HOLT • jerry.holt@star­tri­bune.com

Study sub­ject Chris­tian Tay­lor used an eye-track­ing de­vice that helps doc­tors de­tect the pres­ence and sever­ity of past con­cus­sions.

Dr. Uzma Sa­madani an­nounced her con­cus­sion study at a news con­fer­ence on Thurs­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.