UNC concussion researcher to participate in White House summit

Kevin Guskiewicz, a lead concussion researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will participate in a special White House summit Thursday that will focus on finding new ways to identify, treat and prevent concussions, especially in youth sports.

Guskiewicz, the senior associate dean for natural sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences and Kenan Distinguished Professor of Exercise and Sport Science, will join President Barack Obama and about 200 sports officials, medical experts, parent activists and young athletes for the first Healthy Kids and Safe Sports Concussion Summit.

The invitation came after a series of expert interviews with the White House Office of Science and Technology, where Guskiewicz was asked his thoughts about new directions for concussion research.

Guskiewicz is an expert on sport-related concussions across all levels of play. He is a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow and serves as an adviser on the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee and the NCAA’s Concussion Committee.

He helped write concussion guidelines that are now recommended by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Football League, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association and the American College of Sports Medicine.

During the summit, the Obama administration is expected to announce new commitments from the public and private sectors to raise awareness about how best to identify, treat and prevent concussions, as well as the need to conduct more research on the issue.

Guskiewicz said he hopes the president will continue to encourage all sporting organizations to have strict concussion policies in place and to conduct more comprehensive injury surveillance in youth and high school sports to better understand the causes of potential concussions.

“I hope he will also make a commitment to advancing research through increased federal funding to help not only athletes, but U.S. service members who suffer from blast injuries that can be similar in many ways to sport-related concussions,” he said.

Guskiewicz also is research director of the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes and co-director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at UNC. The center is named for the late Matthew Gfeller, a Winston-Salem high school football player who suffered a fatal traumatic brain injury in 2008 during his first varsity football game. Matthew’s parents, Lisa and Bob Gfeller, also will attend the summit.

During the past four years, UNC has been working on a project led by Gfeller Center Co-Director and Assistant Professor Jason Mihalik to help military physicians make more informed return-to-duty decisions after combat-related brain injuries.

President Obama has been quoted in media reports that if he had sons, he would have to think long and hard about whether to let them play football. Guskiewicz has an answer for that.

“Given the value that sports bring to our youth, researching the ways in which we can improve safety in sports is a better solution than eliminating those opportunities altogether,” he said. “I’m proud of the fact that we are doing that at Carolina.”

Read more in The Washington Post about the White House summit.

By Kim Spurr, College of Arts and Sciences

Published May 28, 2014.