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UAB gets NFL grant to study concussions

  • September 11, 2012

A grant from NFL Charities will help UAB researchers study a potential way to minimize the biochemical injuries associated with concussions.

University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers will use a grant from NFL Charities to examine a new compound that might minimize the effects of a concussion. It’s part of a grant package totaling $1.5 million from NFL Charities, the charitable foundation of the National Football League owners, for sports-related medical research at 15 institutions.

concussion_grant_sThe UAB team, led by Candace Floyd, Ph.D., associate professor and director of research in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, and Hubert Tse, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, will study a compound known as a catalytic oxidoreductant, which may dampen the secondary effects of concussions.

Floyd says when a concussion occurs the brain suffers mechanical injury at the moment of initial impact, in which brain cells are damaged by the force of the impact. This is followed by a cascade of biochemical injuries, including oxidative stress and an overly aggressive immune response to inflammation in the brain. These secondary injuries are responsible for a large amount of additional cell death. The researchers believe the oxidoreductant compound will interrupt that cascade, preventing oxidative stress and shutting off the aggressive and inappropriate immune response.

The researchers believe the oxidoreductant compound will interrupt that cascade, preventing oxidative stress and shutting off the aggressive and inappropriate immune response.

“A good analogy might be a small forest fire,” says Floyd. “The original concussive impact creates a small fire that by itself only causes minimal damage to the forest. But if the body’s response to that fire is inappropriate and too strong, it fans the flames and causes the fire to burn out of control. We believe our experimental compound will shut off that response, minimizing the damage while allowing the fire to burn out on its own.”

The compound was developed by Hubert Tse and collaborators at Duke University to combat rejection in organ transplantation. Floyd and her colleagues recognized that its ability to reduce the effects of oxidative stress following organ transplant might also be beneficial following injury to the nervous system.  A small pilot study on spinal cord injury showed promise, leading to the current concussion study.

“We’re very glad to be working with NFL Charities on this novel approach to minimizing the injuries associated with concussions,” says Floyd. “Our share of the funding, $100,000 over the next year and a half, will allow us to ascertain the validity of this very promising approach.”

The studies will be conducted on mouse models of concussion that closely represent the effects suffered by humans with concussion. The compound will be administered 30 minutes post-concussion. The team will also examine the compound’s effects on multiple concussions, as there is growing evidence that suffering three or more concussions leads to significant brain damage. Floyd says that if successful, the long-term concept would be to have a drug that could be given in the immediate aftermath of a concussion, by a trainer on a sideline, an EMS crew at a car collision or a medic on a battlefield.

The NFL has supported sports-related medical research for decades through NFL Charities Medical Research Grants. Since 2000, NFL Charities has committed grants to non-profit medical facilities nationwide, including studies on brain injury, ACL injury prevention and heat stress risks.