Football players [illustrative].
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Even mild concussions – without the player complaining about trauma – suffered during amateur tackle football games can cause brain damage, according to new research just published in JAMA Neurology, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The research by Ben-Gurion University and Soroka-University Medical Center brain imaging experts compared 16 players from Israel’s professional football team, Black Swarm, to a control group of 13 BGU track-and-field athletes.
The conclusions were said to be relevant not only for American- style football but also for soccer, hockey, and other games that may involve trauma to the head.
The study used for the first time a contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) device developed at the university to visualize injury in the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The new instrument can help coaches decide whether an injured player can return to the game without harm.
According to Dr. Alon Friedman, who discovered the new diagnostic technique, “Until now there wasn’t a diagnostic capability to identify mild brain injury early after the trauma.
In the NFL, other professional sports, and especially school sports, concern has grown about the long-term neuropsychiatric mconsequences of repeated mild trauatic brain injury (mTBI) and specifically sports-related concussive and sub-concussive head impacts.”
Limitations of this study included a relatively small sample size and lack of long-term follow- up. Further research, wrote the researchers, is warranted toward understanding the natural course of BBB dysfunction in mild traumatic brain injury.
Medical researchers, including Friedman’s group at BGU, are working to find drugs that will target the BBB and facilitate its repair, potentially allowing for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and other brain-related diseases.
The goal of the study, said Friedman, was to use the new method to visualize the extent and location of BBB dysfunction in football players using dynamic contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (DCE-MRI). The DCE-MRIs were given between games during the season and revealed significant damage: 40 percent of the examined football players with unreported concussions had evidence of “leaky BBB” compared to 8.3 percent of the track-andfield control group.
“This showed a clear association between football and increased risk for BBB pathology that we couldn’t see before,” Friedman explained. “In addition, high-BBB permeability was found in six players and in only one athlete from the control group.”