White House sports summit shines focus on brain injuries

Eric Nauman
Thomas M. Talavage
Larry J. Leverenz
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids and young adults make nearly 250,000 emergency room visits each year as a result of brain injuries from sports and recreation. The White House Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit, held May 29, featured a panel discussion by experts and new financial commitments by the federal government and private sector to fund research into concussions.

Eric Nauman, professor of mechanical engineering and director of the College of Engineering’s Honors Program, represented Purdue at the summit. Nauman is part of the Purdue University Neurotrauma Group that is working to improve diagnosis of injuries and develop new helmet technology that can be used by athletes and members of the military. Working with him are Larry J. Leverenz, clinical professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology, and Thomas M. Talavage, professor of electrical and computer engineering

“About 200 people attended the summit representing the NFL, parents, players, coaches, athletic directors, organized sports, MDs and PhDs,” he says. “What was most interesting was the number of military there. We don’t often get an opportunity to interact with all of these disparate groups.”

Nauman says there are discussions about hosting a similar gathering at Purdue where participants can do experiments, utilize MRI data and exchange ideas.

Examining the data

For five years the Purdue researchers have looked at how to better diagnose brain injury. They recently received funding through the NFL Consortium to work with neurotechnology company BrainScope, which is developing a new generation of portable, simple-to-use instruments to promptly diagnose brain dysfunctions. One device might be available on the sidelines during a game to do low-cost scans — perhaps at a cost of $5 to $10 — compared with an MRI scan that costs $1,000 to $2,000.

“I think we’re leading the way with this partnership,” Nauman says.

The best thing about the summit, Nauman says, is that it brought together all of the constituencies interested in finding solutions to brain injuries.

“It’s hard to do that in general, but having the president focus on this topic and the ability to get the perspective from this diverse group was phenomenal,” he says. “I came away from the summit feeling that we’re heading in the right direction.”