UNC concussion researcher participates in White House summit

Kevin Guskiewicz, a lead concussion researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was at the White House on Thursday when President Barack Obama announced new initiatives aimed at the prevention and treatment of concussions in youth sports.

Guskiewicz was invited to participate in the inaugural conference, the Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit, along with other experts from around the country.

“This is an issue I have been studying for more than 20 years, and it was a topic that was ignored for many years,” said Guskiewicz, senior associate dean for natural sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences and Kenan Distinguished Professor of Exercise and Sport Science. He also is co-director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at UNC.

“As I listened to President Obama, for him to dedicate a significant part of the day to this subject, it felt very rewarding [and affirming] of the work that we are doing at Carolina.“

The NCAA and the U.S. Department of Defense are jointly launching a $30 million effort to fund research on concussion risks, treatment and management. The work will also include an Educational Grant Challenge aimed at improving concussion safety behaviors in college sports and the military.

The exact amount is yet to be determined, but Guskiewicz, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow who serves as an adviser on the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee and the NCAA’s Concussion Committee, said UNC is expected to receive funding and be included in that initiative as part of ongoing work with the NCAA.

Among the new initiatives announced at the summit:

  • The National Football League (NFL) will commit $25 million over the next three years to promote youth sports safety, including support for more athletic trainers in schools.
  • The National Institutes of Health will undertake new research on the chronic effects of repetitive concussions, with an initial investment of $16 million from the NFL.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology will invest $5 million over five years to accelerate development of advanced materials to provide better protection against concussions.
  • Pop Warner Little Scholars will participate in a research project that tracks concussions and concussion trends in high school sports.

At a talk streamed live on the White House website, the president stressed the value of encouraging young kids to play sports, but he said it was important to make sure that the playing field was as safe as possible.

Guskiewicz, whose three sons have all played football, said he was glad to see that the president values the role that sports can play in the lives of the nation’s youth.

“The president emphasized keeping kids on the playing field and the need to do that safely, and it further underscores the important work we’re doing at UNC,” he said.

Read more about all of the initiatives announced at the summit.

By Kim Spurr, College of Arts and Sciences

Published May 29, 2014