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N.F.L and G.E. fund head injury research

By TONY WU | February 14, 2013

Football injuries can sometimes seem like they’re just part of the game, but research has shown that repeated hits to the head can have severely adverse effects. With great concern for the toll of head injuries, the National Football League (NF.L) has joined with General Electric (G.E.) to help develop technologies that detect concussions.

In October, Roger Goodell, commissioner of the N.F.L., and General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, formed a partnership. The collaboration stems from Goodell’s desire to get companies to join the N.F.L. in making these aforementioned technologies a priority.

The main objectives of the research are three-fold. One aspect will focus on how to classify players based on their predisposition to head injuries. Another aspect will investigate different types of brain trauma suffered by the players. And finally, the third focus will be on the development of better equipment to manage the head injuries suffered during game play. The initiative, funded by $50 million contributions from both organizations, will commence in March.

This partnership is surprising since the N.F.L. has previously refused to acknowledge a relationship between football head injuries and impaired cognitive function later in life for former players. The recent reversal in the N.F.L.’s position has been coupled with alterations in the rules and more frequent fines and penalties to players who hits others in the head.

Despite the new, seemingly determined stance of the N.F.L. on head injuries, some professionals in the medical field cast doubts on the effectiveness of such an initiative. Several doctors and other experts are distrustful about the league’s motives. They cite the league’s previous denials on brain damage caused by head trauma as evidence that recent actions are merely attempts at improving the league’s image. Some are even suspicion of G.E.’s involvement, claiming that it’s a profit-seeking venture.

Despite criticism, officials from the N.F.L. stated late January that starting next season, neurological consultants will be present during games to determine whether players are suffering head injuries.

Goodell expressed his optimism about the outcome of the partnership, while explaining how their initiative will differ from other studies. Most of the research will be based on the technologies and innovations that are already in existence. Rather than innovation, the overall purpose of the project is to improve the techniques that are currently employed to treat head trauma, minimizing the permanent cognitive damage players suffer.

Though the main focus of the initiative is research, the plan also seeks to improve protective equipment used by players to help minimize injury. This part of the plan hinges on participation from other organizations and individuals. The main contributions will be from inventors and entrepreneurs who entered a competition hosted by G.E. With the promise of $20 million, G.E. hopes that new concepts for better equipment will flood the company.

Even without the incentive, companies will be competing for innovations. The World Health Organization stated that brain injury is a major factor in the deaths and disabilities of children in every country. An improvement in this area of neurology could significantly diminish the debilitating effects of such trauma. There is sizable market for any company that is able to develop more sensitive and accurate devices.

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