The NFL, Under Armour, and GE today announced the next batch of winners for its Head Health Challenge, a $60 million initiative that gives research teams funding to develop new ways to prevent, measure, and detect brain injury.
The seven awardees each won $500,000, with a chance to receive an additional $1 million in 2015. They range from a Detroit company developing material that improves the safety of synthetic turf fields, to Vicis, a University of Washington spinout we wrote about on Wednesday that is designing the “world’s safest football helmet.”
This is the second leg of the challenge, which launched last year and is part of a four-year R&D program. The first group was picked in January, with those projects related to diagnosis and treatment of brain injury. The second class is more focused on protection and measuring head impacts.
Up to five teams from this second group will have a chance to win an extra $1 million next year, depending upon what the organizers deem as “continued innovation advancements, potential for commercialization and on-field impact.”
A concussion crisis is impacting American football at all levels. One out of every three retired NFL players is expected to develop long-term cognitive problems; doctors are criticizing the NCAA for how it protects student-athletes from head trauma; and parents — from LeBron James to Brett Favre — are skeptical of allowing their children to play football due to safety concerns.
It’s a pressing problem for the NFL, which was sued last year by former players who were suffering from brain injuries and blamed the NFL for hiding the dangers of head trauma. The league reached a tentative settlement with the players in August 2013, but a federal judge lifted a $765 million cap on damages just three months ago.
The winners are listed below. There are also videos about each group you can watch here.
- Army Research Laboratory, Baltimore, Md. —The Army Research Laboratory (ARL) created rate-dependent tethers that allow free motion at low speeds, but provide high force resistance during high-speed events. ARL proposes using these smart materials to connect the head to the torso, allowing voluntary head movement during sports action, while minimizing sudden accelerations caused by high speed collisions, often associated with concussions. Beyond sports, this technology also has the potential to mitigate head trauma for members of the military.
- Emory University, Atlanta, Ga. —Researchers and engineers from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology developed a prototype medical device that can screen and assess concussions in near real-time. The portable device, known as iDETECT, can be used on the sidelines of sporting events. It consists of a headset and handheld device that rapidly assesses the player’s symptoms, including cognitive function, balance and eye movements.
- UCLA, Los Angeles, Calif. —UCLA and Architected Materials, Inc. are developing a new energy-absorbing microlattice material for improved helmet performance. They are developing a material to be used as a new under-helmet liner that would absorb significantly more energy than current designs and therefore better protect the brain. Through a collaboration of material designers, mechanical impact experts, and neuroscientists, they will utilize a new 3D printing platform to develop real-time responsive helmet technology.
- The University of Miami, Miami, Fla. —The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Neuro Kinetics, Inc., is developing a portable eye-goggle that gathers and measures precise eye movements. The I-Portal® PAS goggle will assist in identifying mild traumatic brain injury in real time, leading to more accurate concussion diagnosis. This advanced research into traumatic brain injuries has received funding support from the U.S. military at the Army Medical Research and Materials Command and the Department of Defense Hearing Center of Excellence.
- University of Washington, Seattle, Wash. — Together with commercial partner, VICIS, Inc., the UW team is developing a revolutionary football helmet. The helmet boasts a novel impact absorbing structure that mitigates forces likely to cause concussion. The UW/VICIS team is built with thought-leading neurosurgeons, mechanical engineers, and business leaders committed to using science to protect athletes.
- Viconic Sporting, Inc., Detroit, Mich.—Viconic’s research is focused on developing an underlayer for synthetic turf systems that will make fields safer for those who play on them. Viconic’s technology is widely used for impact management in the automotive and sporting industries and in the U.S. Military. Viconic will further explore the relationship between optimized head impact protection and the frequency of lower limb injuries in an effort to provide the synthetic turf industry a tool to specify systems that maximize player safety and minimize system costs.
- University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H. — University of New Hampshire researcher Erik Swartz will lead a study to evaluate the effectiveness of a helmet-less tackling training system called the HuTTTM Technique. Proposed as an intervention for head impact prevention in high school football, this technique emphasizes proper tackling and blocking technique using closely supervised drills where players participate without their helmets and shoulder pads. UNH will investigate whether regular implementation of the HuTTTM technique results in player behavior change and reduces injury risk by reinforcing proper technique when players go into full-equipment play.