From major league athletes to children, more than 1.7 million Americans sustain concussions each year.
That’s why the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC received a $300,000 grant from General Electric and the NFL for a project to find a better way to “see” concussions.
The Pitt researchers are testing high definition fiber-tracking (HDFT) to determine if it can accurately and consistently aid in determining a diagnosis of concussion and injury prognosis.
Walter Schneider, professor of neurological surgery and one of the creators, said the HDFT allows them to see broken brain cables like X-rays show broken bones.
“It’s an advanced MRI imaging technology where we look at the exons, or the ‘cables’ of the brain,” Schneider said. “We can find damage in terms of when a certain percentage of those cables being broken as the result of a traumatic brain injury.”
He said the HDFT will give them the ability to monitor the cables’ regrowth process, which is important to the healing of a concussion.
“It has been very difficult with conventional techniques to see them accurately,” Schneider said. “There are CT scans, there are standard MRI scans, but they don’t provide the level of detail and resolution to clearly identify the extent of the damage to the extent that we now can.”
Pitt researchers will use the HDFT to study about 50 athletes with concussions between the ages of 13 and 28.
“We will be scanning them with these techniques to quantify the integrity of the different brain cables,” Schneider said. “Sort of like after you would have a sports injury and a bone might be fractured, we’ll go over each of the cables to look for changes that are the equivalent of the fracturing of parts of these cables.”
Schneider said they hope to better manage sports and military concussions by looking at and measuring the changes in the cables.
“By understanding the nature of both the damage and the healing, we can work to maximize the career of a sports person, not just their next game,” Schneider said. “There are times when you have to take time off that you have to give things to recover, because if you don’t, it could produce serious damage.”
He said they are now in the process of deploying the HDFT to other major military and civilian hospitals.