Weldon Faculty Lead Impactful Research Project

Football player holding a helmet
Lafayette Jefferson football player shows sensor-studded helmet
In a first-of-its-kind study, Purdue Biomedical Engineering researchers are teaming up with local high school football players to better understand how large impacts to the head can result in concussions.

The team of researchers, including Professors Eric Nauman, Tom Talavage and Charles Bouman, kicked off the study by collecting baseline MRIs and cognitive data on participating members of the Lafayette Jefferson High School football team. Twenty-five players' helmets were then fitted with sensors that record the intensity and direction of impact.

By examining this data in conjunction with monitoring video of the games, the researchers hope to better understand how specific impacts happen, and why certain players are affected differently by similar impacts. The participating coaches will be able to utilize this information to better instruct the players, thus improving the overall safety for all team members. Although earlier studies measured impacts and their effects on players, no one has ever collected MRI or cognitive data on players prior to documenting their concussions; thus the baseline data was simply not available for comparison.

The availability of a 3-Tesla MRI scanner at the Purdue MRI facility at Innervision West for research has made a significant difference in the project. If a player is diagnosed on the sidelines with a concussion, he will undergo subsequent computer cognitive testing and MRIs that can be compared to the preseason data. Clinical methods of diagnosing concussions - confusion, drowsiness - tend to fade with time. The current follow-up tests will provide better metrics on how long a player is affected by the concussion.

According to Professor Talavage, "What's exciting to us is to be undertaking this research at the high school level, where the student athletes' bodies are still maturing and brains are still developing. Anything we can do at this stage to prevent these types of injuries, especially long term consequences, is a big plus." The research team is hoping to expand its study to include other area schools, and even other sports. Non-sport applications could include soldiers who are suffering from blast trauma or obtaining information for improved automobile design.

 (Photo used with permission of Brent Drinkut and the Lafayette Journal Courier.)