Grant from General Electric, NFL Will Fund Pitt-UPMC Concussion Research Using Brain-Imaging

Issue Date: 
January 27, 2014

General Electric Co. and the NFL have awarded a $300,000 grant to a joint effort by the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC to assess whether a powerful imaging technology—high definition fiber-tracking—can identify concussions and subsequent recovery in newly injured athletes. 

High definition fiber-tracking was developed by a team led by Walter Schneider, a Pitt professor of psychology and neurological surgery and a senior scientist at the University’s Learning Research and Development Center. The human brain comprises billions of neural connections in 40 major fiber tracts, which are the information cables of the mind, Schneider said. Conventional imaging cannot show the cables or detect the subtle damage that can be caused by, for instance, a mild traumatic brain injury. High definition fiber-tracking, however, uses advanced computational means to process data from sophisticated MRI machines, revealing these brain pathways and spots where the tracts might be disrupted or affected.

High definition fiber-tracking “could provide an objective way of identifying and quantifying damage, as well as a way to monitor healing. Concussion patients may find it a relief to be able to point to a specific cause for symptoms that otherwise might seem inexplicable,” Schneider said.

The project’s principal investigators are Schneider and Michael Collins, executive and clinical director, and Anthony Kontos, assistant research director, both of the UPMC Concussion Program. Collins is a developer, co-owner, and shareholder of ImPACT Applications, Inc., which has developed a computerized neurocognitive test battery that will be used in the study.

The one-year study will involve dozens of other researchers from the Schneider lab and the UPMC Concussion Program.

The project will assess 50 or more athletes ages 13 to 28 who sustained a head injury within seven days of seeking care at the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. In addition to undergoing examination-room assessments, vestibular and ocular evaluations, and neurocognitive testing, patients will have a high-definition scan.

The NFL and GE announced the launch of the four-year, $40 million Head Health Initiative in March last year. The grant proposal submitted by Pitt and the UPMC Concussion Program was among 402 submitted internationally and was one of 15 winners.