Published: April 5, 2019

Key takeaways

 CU Boulder is leading a groundbreaking Pac-12 Conference-wide initiative to study next-gen concussion prevention, diagnoses and treatments for student-athletes.

 The interdisciplinary collaboration brings together scientists, administrators, coaches and students to gather long-term data and pilot groundbreaking technological advances in the field.

 The study will eventually provide athletes with actionable information that could improve safety in their sports and advance the field of concussion research.

Concussions in sports such as football, soccer and water polo are a critical issue facing student-athletes nationwide and CU Boulder is innovating the next generation of prevention and treatment.

In 2017, the Pac-12 Conference selected CU Boulder to serve as the coordinating institution for a long-term, multi-site research study into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of traumatic head injuries in collaboration with the NCAA. The project began operations last year and brings together scientists from the Department of Integrative Physiology (IPHY) and the campus’s Athletics Department.

“This unique partnership is changing the culture around student-athlete health and well-being,” said Matthew McQueen, one of the study’s lead investigators and an associate professor in IPHY. “The collaboration between athletics staff and academic researchers opens the door for us to take an evidence-based approach to diagnosis and treatment.”

Researchers and athletics staff will be piloting SyncThink technology, an integrated, head-mounted eye-tracking virtual reality system used for recording, viewing and analyzing eye movements in order to identify visual tracking impairment—a telltale symptom of brain trauma. If successful, the devices could eventually be used for real-time concussion monitoring and diagnosis during games.

 This unique partnership is changing the culture around student-athlete health and well-being.” –Matthew McQueen

Preventing concussions in the first place matters, too: At CU Denver, engineering professor and CU Boulder alumnus Chris Yakacki has developed a shock-absorbing material to make football helmets safer, an innovation that has already earned seed funding from the NFL.

The Pac-12 initiative, believed to be the first of its kind among the NCAA’s major conferences, is underway now across all member campuses and will yield several years’ worth of data collected from hundreds of student-athlete volunteers. The eventual results could advance the field of concussion research significantly.

“In a few years, we will be publishing findings that will provide actionable information directly to students, coaches and administrators,” said Miguel Rueda, CU Boulder senior associate athletic director for health and performance. “We’re creating a collaborative ecosystem where everyone can benefit.”

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