Research Conducted On ASU Football Sidelines Could Help Brain Trauma Patients

September 13, 2013

When Arizona State’s football team takes the field against the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday night, about 40 Sun Devils will be wearing special helmets that monitor when a player suffers a head impact. It's all part of a study to find biological signs of a concussion.

When a coach is worried that one of his players has a concussion, he’ll watch for certain symptoms — passing out, throwing up, having trouble speaking. But it’s not always so obvious. What if there were a more exact way to tell? What about through blood-based molecular information?

Dr. Jeffrey Trent is president of the genomic research institute TGen in Phoenix. His organization has partnered with ASU football and helmet maker Riddell to monitor head impacts and to determine if those hits create some kind of marker in the body.

“The goal is to develop test that are simple, rapid, and really can quickly facilitate objective medical decisions on the field at every level of play," Trent said.

ASU is one of a handful of Division I teams who use Riddell’s Sideline Response System. Monitors inside players’ helmets send real-time information about hits to the sideline.

But this study is the first to combine helmet monitoring with testing at the molecular level. About 40 Sun Devils volunteered to take part. Researchers took a baseline fluid sample before training camp, and will take samples during practices and games all through the 2013 season.

“If there are biomarkers in the body that are associated with concussions, we wanted to be part of this research. At the end of the season, TGen and Riddell will partner up and come up with solutions, and hopefully some good outcomes," said Bill Martin, ASU's head athletic trainer.

If there changes at the molecular level after a sub-concussive or concussive hit, TGen hopes that knowledge could be applied to more than just sports medicine. It could also help identify brain trauma in situations like combat, or after a natural disaster.