Purdue, IU research gives new look at concussions

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New money and new research are providing a new look at concussions and the brain damage they are causing soldiers and athletes.

The NCAA and Department of Defense are promising $30 million to get a better understanding of injuries, how they can be treated and, perhaps most importantly, how they can be prevented.

Meanwhile, researchers at Purdue University are seeing new troublesome effects of playing the game of football. Those routine hits to the head every player takes in every game and practice, may not be as harmless as they look.

The danger of those jarring head-to-head collisions and the risk of brain-damaging concussions are well known to players and parents. But now, researchers are seeing the disturbing effects of the thousands of seemingly harmless collisions players endure over the course of just one season.

Researcher Evan Breedlove has done a lot of counting.

"You get a kid who hits his head hundreds of times and another 1,700 times," he said with his wife Katie next to him.

"You forget how much that adds up to over the course of a season," she explained.

The graduate students are among the Purdue researchers who've spent years studying the effects football has on athletes' brains. Hundreds of scans revealed that more than half the players who never received a concussion experienced lingering cognitive disabilities.

"It's troubling," Evan said. "You would not like to see changes in people's brains."

Tests and MRIs done before, during, and after the season showed physiological changes in the way a player's brain worked.

"They can still do the problems we ask them to do," Katie explained. "They get all the right answers, but it's how the brain attacks the problem, how it figures out how it's solving the problem that changes."

Shawn Vacha, a high school freshman, was recovering from a concussion when we met him last year. A friend told his mom what researches have learned.

"This is one of the things that bothers me as much as putting a kid behind the wheel of a car," Kami Ervin admitted.

She said her son has recovered, feels fine, and the doctors cleared him to play football.

"I can't keep him wrapped up in the house in a bubble for the rest of his life," she said.

Researchers don't yet know the long term medical effects of the changes they've discovered in player's brain functions, proving, they say, how much more there is to learn about a sport Americans have played for generations.

IU med school helping lead study

The Indiana University School of Medicine will help oversee a three-year, $30 million concussion study being funded by the NCAA and the Defense Department.

The Concussion Assessment, Research and Education Consortium will involve athletes from as many as 30 universities. It will be led by IU's School of Medicine in collaboration with the University of Michigan and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Psychiatry Department chairman Thomas McAllister will lead the research project's administrative and operations center at the IU School of Medicine. The IU team also will provide data management and analysis, specimen storage and clinical trial support.

Plans call for an initial collection of data on about 7,200 athletes from 12 colleges, growing to about 37,000 athletes at 30 sites.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)