Guskiewicz, an expert in concussion research and senior associate dean for natural sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, attended the first Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit on May 29 at the White House. He started the sports concussion program at UNC in 1995.
“The fact that we’ve reached the level of the White House further emphasizes the importance of the issue,” Guskiewicz said.
President Barack Obama emphasized the need for more research and the importance of keeping kids physically active, beliefs in line with the theory at UNC’s sports concussion research center.
“It’s not about drawing a line in the sand and saying kids shouldn’t play a contact sport until they’re 15,” Guskiewicz said. “It’s about finding ways to try and prevent concussions while keeping them physically active.”
Obama announced that the NCAA and the Department of Defense are jointly launching a $30 million effort to fund research on concussions. Guskiewicz said UNC will be one of the 10 to 12 universities involved.
The effort will also include an “Educational Grand Challenge” intended to encourage concussion prevention behaviors in college sports and the military.
Obama said the study will involve up to 37,000 college athletes along with the Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. A White House press release said it will be the most comprehensive concussion study ever conducted.
“Blast injuries that our soldiers experience are very similar to concussions,” Guskiewicz said. “The NCAA and the Department of Defense realize that we can learn a lot from each other in terms of how to manage the injury.”
Guskiewicz works in the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center, which is housed inside UNC’s Stallings-Evans Sports Medicine Center.
The research center was named in memory of Matthew Alan Gfeller, a rising football star who died in 2008 after a head injury sustained during his first varsity game. His parents, Bob and Lisa Gfeller, were among the attendees at the White House summit and were able to spend time with Guskiewicz .
“To be there with them and for them to have the opportunity to meet people at the summit further emphasizes they are not people who wish to ban sport, but promote safety in sport,” Guskiewicz said.
UNC’s football team plays a part in the research, using a device that measures the amount and severity of hits to the head with a series of accelerometers placed inside helmets.
“The program at UNC is not only educating the athletes on the research, but we’re now a key part of the research that will provide education to the rest of the country,” said Kenny Boyd, head football athletic trainer.
The concussion research center focuses on connecting athletics, academics and research and the resources available within each of those fields.
“There’s not another place in the country that has the same connections that we do,” Guskiewicz said. “We want to use our data to help other universities fine-tune their concussion management protocol to mimic the one we’ve put in place here. At UNC, we like to be trendsetters.”
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