Knocking heads is part of the rough and tumble action of a football game, but few things can sideline an otherwise healthy athlete faster than a concussion. To study the long-term effects of concussions, NFL Charities, an organization of the member clubs of the National Football League, has awarded a $110, 000 grant to the Head Injury Center (HIC) of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center.
Concussions have always plagued physical sports, where contact is part of the game. But football players, such as Troy Aikman and Steve Young, are only among the most visible of the two million Americans that suffer from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) each year. "People rarely associate concussions with what they really are - traumatic brain injuries," said Tracy K. McIntosh, PhD, the Robert A. Groff Professor and Director of the HIC. "Brain injury is a silent epidemic in this country, affecting more lives than most people realize."
In fact, the statistics surrounding traumatic brain injuries are staggering. According to numbers compiled by the Brain Injury Association, approximately 5.3 million Americans - slightly more than 2% of the US population - are living with a disability as a result of a severe brain injury. TBI is the leading cause of death and disability in persons under 45 years old, occurring more frequently than breast cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injury. Each year, approximately 100,000 people die from TBI, and 500,000 more are permanently disabled. Every 15 seconds, someone, usually a young person, suffers from a brain injury.
Despite these numbers, our understanding of the brain's long-term response to injury is still incomplete. "A brain-injured patient may look stable, but cells are still dying. Realizing this is important developing ways to recover, regenerate, and stem the loss of brain tissue," said McIntosh. "We hope that by understanding the molecular and cellular sequences of events after trauma, well be able to determine when and where cells die in the brain and use that information to develop new therapeutic strategies to treat head injury." The Penn HIC is one of seven nationally designated Head Injury Centers by the National Institutes of Health. As Director of Penn's Head Injury Center, McIntosh and his colleagues and collaborators in Neurosurgery, Bioengineering, Pharmacology and Pathology at Penn have made great progress in understanding and treating traumatic brain injury.
Their accomplishments include the discovery of the first link between traumatic brain injury and the development of post-traumatic epileptic seizures. They were also the first laboratory to identify the contribution of programmed cell death, called apoptosis, in mediating the progressive cascade of cell death observed after TBI. Dr. McIntosh and his colleagues have also pioneered research into the mechanistic relationship between head injury and Alzheimer's Disease and other neurodegenerative disorders and were the first to evaluate the efficacy of neural stem cell transplantation as a potential therapy for traumatic brain injury. Funding from the NFL Charities grant will support McIntosh's efforts in furthering this progress.
NFL Charities is a nonprofit organization that was formed in 1973 by the 31 member clubs of the National Football League to enable the teams to collectively contribute to charitable and worthwhile causes on a national level. Since its inception, the Board of Directors of NFL Charities has agreed to grant over $40 million to over 250 different organizations. The current Board of Directors includes Michael Bidwill, Hon. Jack Kemp, Jeffrey Lurie, John Mackey, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Delores Barr Weaver, and Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System is distinguished not only by its historical significance - first hospital (1751), first medical school (1765), first university teaching hospital (1874), first fully integrated academic health system (1993) - but by its position as a major player on the world stage of medicine in the 21st century. Committed to a three-part mission of education, research, and clinical excellence, UPHS has excelled in all three areas. This year, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine was ranked third among all U.S. medical schools by U.S. News & World Report. Penn ranked second among all American medical schools that received funds from the National Institutes of Health, perhaps the single most important barometer of research strength.
Editor's Note: Learn more about the Penn Head Injury Center at: http://bioeng.