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UPMC receives grant to study concussions

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Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 11:36 p.m.

Detailed images of broken cables in the brain could pave the way for better treatment of sports-related concussions, researchers at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh said Thursday.

The images, produced by sophisticated technology called high-definition fiber-tracking, will be the focus of a study at the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

Concussions, caused by a sudden blow to the head, create tiny breaks in the brain that can lead to lasting damage, said Walter Schneider, a senior scientist and professor of psychology and neurological surgery at Pitt's Learning Research and Development Center.

“This technology gives us the ability to see the damage so we hope to track its recovery,” Schneider said. “In the same way X-rays let us track a fracture or look at the healing process, we expect to see these broken brain cables and look at their healing.”

Breaks in the brain-cell network don't show up in traditional MRIs or CT scans typically used on athletes who have potentially sustained a concussion, Schneider said.

The high-definition fiber-tracking, which Pitt used to examine the brains of wounded soldiers, uses sophisticated algorithms to produce yellow, green and purple images of fiber tracts in the brain.

The one-year study will be financed by a $300,000 grant awarded by General Electric and the National Football League. The study was one of 402 proposals submitted as part of the NFL and General Electric's $40 million Head Health Initiative.

The study will enroll 50 more athletes, ages 13 to 28, who sustained a head injury within seven days of seeking care at UPMC's concussion program.

In addition to Schneider, the study's principal investigators are Anthony Kontos and Micky Collins, both with the UPMC concussion program.

“We have to treat concussions with respect, because if you reinjure during the sensitive period of recovery, it can lead to lasting damage,” Schneider said.

Luis Fábregas is Trib Total Media's medical editor. He can be reached at 412-320-7998 or

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