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Willer, Leddy Tackle Concussion Research With NFL Grant

Sports medicine researchers, John Leddy, MD and Barry Willer, PhD, are developing the objective protocol for making this critical call.

Returning to play before recovering from concussion poses serious risk to athletes, says John Leddy, MD, (right), with Barry Willer, PhD, co-principal investigator on the grant.

Published September 26, 2012

NFL Charities has awarded UB researchers $100,000 to develop a scientific assessment to determine when an athlete who has had a concussion can safely return to play.

The grant is one of 15 totaling $1.5 million that the non-profit arm of the NFL awarded nationwide to support sports medicine research primarily targeted at concussion prevention and treatment.

Tool to Prevent Premature Return to Sports

“We’ll be looking at sophisticated MRI images and measuring the athletes’ ability to exercise to a maximum rate without a return of their symptoms.”
John Leddy, MD
clinical associate professor of orthopaedics

John Leddy, MD, is principal investigator on the grant, which he and Barry Willer, PhD, co-principal investigator, will use to develop an objective, systematic return-to-play protocol.

“Concussion itself poses little risk if it is properly managed,” says Leddy, director of UB’s Concussion Management Clinic and clinical associate professor of orthopaedics, family medicine and rehabilitation sciences. “The only risk acutely is hemorrhage, which is generally detected through CT scans.

“However, return to play before complete recovery involves much more serious risk.”

Pro, Collegiate Athletes Serving as Test Subjects

Leddy and Willer, professor of psychiatry and rehabilitation sciences, will test athletes from the Buffalo Bills, the Buffalo Sabres and Western New York colleges—including UB—who sustain concussions in the 2012-2013 season, as well as healthy control subjects.

Other the next 18 months, the UB researchers will measure participants’ heart rate, blood pressure, pulmonary ventilation, cerebral blood flow and other physiological variables that are impacted when someone has a concussion. The athletes will have measurements taken when they’re still experiencing cognitive symptoms and when they feel like they have recovered.

“We'll be looking at sophisticated MRI images and measuring the athletes’ ability to exercise to a maximum rate without a return of their symptoms, all of which will help us gather more objective physiological evidence,” Leddy says.

Assessment Eliminates Athletes ‘Faking’ Results

Leddy and Willer have completed smaller, pilot studies showing that a controlled, progressive exercise program using a standard treadmill test can successfully treat athletes who have undergone concussions.

Although team physicians traditionally have relied on subjective assessments of an athlete’s ability to exercise without experiencing symptoms, the treadmill test produces objective physiological responses, they stress.

“Athletes cannot ‘fake’ their way through, or minimize symptom reporting, while undergoing this test,” Willer says.

In addition to Leddy and Willer, investigators on the grant include John Marzo, MD, team physician for the Buffalo Bills, and Leslie Bisson, MD, team physician for the Buffalo Sabres, both of whom are UB clinical professors of orthopaedics.

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