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Head Health Challenge assists in brain injury research, treatment

Sixteen organizations have been selected to receive grants of $300,000 to assist their research into tools to diagnose and treat brain injuries, including concussions.

The grants come from the Head Health Challenge, a $20 million program launched last year by the NFL and GE to spur innovation in tests and treatments that could help football players, members of the military and others who suffer mild traumatic brain injuries. Of the 16 winners announced Thursday, which were chosen from more than 400 entries from 27 countries, up to six could be selected to receive up to an additional $500,000 next year to further their work.

The hope, GE Chairman Jeff Immelt said, is that some of the tests and treatments could be ready to come to market in as few as two or three years. Among the most promising initiatives selected to receive grants is one that is working to develop a blood test that would immediately detect traumatic brain injuries, and another that would use brain imaging to show broken connections in the brain following an injury.

The NFL and GE also are already at work with Under Armour on another challenge -- entries are due by next week -- to find materials and innovations that can protect against traumatic brain injury and for tools that can track impacts in real time. Up to 10 winners will receive up to $500,000 each.

Commissioner Roger Goodell also offered an intriguing possibility. In response to a question from a reporter following the announcement of the challenge winners, Goodell allowed that the NFL someday might consider allowing players to use medical marijuana if it can be shown to help treat concussions. Marijuana is a banned substance in the NFL's substance abuse policy, and while recreational marijuana use is now legal in Colorado and Washington -- the home states of the two Super Bowl teams -- Goodell made clear that league officials would only consider such a radical change in the drug policy if experts could show that marijuana was medically beneficial.

"I'm not a medical expert," Goodell said Thursday. "We will obviously follow signs. We will follow medicine and if they determine this could be a proper usage in any context, we will consider that. Our medical experts are not saying that right now."

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @JudyBattista.

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