Washington State University researcher Krysztof Czaja.

Head injuries are putting the safety of NFL players — and really the game of football itself —  in danger. But new research and technology could help reduce the amount of concussions that happen on the field and scientists at Washington State University are looking into ways to help the body self-create neurons to repair injured areas of the brain.

WSU was one of 15 organizations that received a $100,000 grant from the NFL Charities as part of its initiative to curb injuries and support sports-related research. Krysztof Czaja (pictured above) and his team of WSU researchers may be on to something.

“What we are trying to do is to induce creation of neurons outside the brain and use these neurons to actually repair the injured areas of the brain,” Czaja explains in this video.

The research is challenging the 50-year-old idea that new neurons could only be formed inside the brain. Five years ago, Czaja’s team discovered by accident that a damaged nerve center just outside the brain could recover by inducing developing stem cells to become functional nerve cells.

The researchers used huge amounts of capsaicin, the active ingredient of chili peppers, to kill neurons but also induce a series of events that create new ones. Czaja is now looking for the chemical agent that stimulates the creation of new neurons. 

“The injured individual can be a donor for nerve cells which will repair his or her damaged brain,” Czaja said.

Concussions in the NFL are certainly a hot topic and will continue to be so for the next few years. There were several NFL advertisements on the subject that ran during the Super Bowl, and the Verge just came out with this interesting piece on how technology can solve the NFL’s head injury problems.

Previously on GeekWire: NFL adopts startup’s technology to detect concussions in real-time

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