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Sixteen receive grants from first round of Head Health Challenge



* Innovations could advance understanding of traumatic brain injury and improve diagnostic tools

* Breakthrough ideas include:

-- A blood test designed to rapidly identify and measure traumatic brain injury

-- A brain imaging technique to identify connections broken in the brain after a traumatic brain injury

-- An electroencephalography (EEG) that could become an in-the-field imaging test

NEW YORK -- GE and the NFL announced Thursday 16 winners in the first stage of the $20 million Head Health Challenge. Each of the winners will receive a $300,000 award to advance their work to speed diagnosis and improve treatment for mild traumatic brain injury. GE and the NFL will provide mentorship, access to GE researchers and industry thought leaders with the opportunity for up to six of the awardees to win an additional $500,000 award in 2015.

The goal of the Head Health Challenge is to improve the safety of athletes, members of the military and society overall. The winners were selected from more than 400 entries from 27 countries, after having been reviewed and nominated by a panel of leading health-care experts in brain research, imaging technologies and advocates for advances in brain research.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said: "These studies hold the promise of advancing brain science in important ways. The health and safety of our players is our top priority, and this challenge extends that commitment to the general population as well. We hope the innovative approaches proposed by these winners will have a lasting impact on the treatment of head injuries."

Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures and Healthymagination, said: "We launched the Challenge as a call to action to fast-track advancement in head health. The Challenge has shown us a remarkable number of breakthrough ideas that deserve attention, investment and further research. By advancing the work of these winners, we will better understand brain injuries suffered by athletes and members of the military and improve our knowledge of the brain overall which could help improve our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's."

The Challenge award winners are:

  • Banyan Biomarkers Inc., Alachua, Fla.:Banyan Biomarkers Inc. is developing a first of its kind point-of-care blood test to rapidly detect the presence of mild and moderate brain trauma to improve the medical management of head-injured patients. Banyan Biomarkers researchers will work with the University of Florida on a sports concussion research study to analyze biomarkers, neurocognitive testing and neuroimaging on athletes with concussions.
  • BrainScope Company Inc., Bethesda, Md.:BrainScope will work with the Purdue Neurotrauma Group to conduct a study in collegiate athletes using imaging biomarkers such as functional MRI (fMRI) and Diffuse Tensor Imaging (DTI) to potentially enhance BrainScope's urgent care, handheld EEG-based traumatic brain injury detection technology. This study could provide a demonstration that the BrainScope system can function as a surrogate for these imaging biomarkers and as a field-based diagnostic for traumatic brain injury (TBI). This could potentially provide a more robust assessment of injury and recovery and lead to more objective return-to-play decisions. BrainScope devices under development are for investigational use only.
  • University of California-Santa Barbara: The UCSB Brain Imaging Center's laboratory is developing novel software tools for determining if the connections that transmit information across different parts of the brain are damaged after head injury. Using state-of-the-art MRI scans, UCSB is working to identify damage to individual connections anywhere along their path and determine which brain areas have become disconnected after injury.
  • University of California-San Francisco: UCSF and Ayasdi, a Silicon Valley start-up solving complex problems with advanced mathematics and machine learning, are teaming to better serve patients and athletes who have suffered a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury. Applying Ayasdi's novel technology to high-quality, detailed MRI and CAT scans of the brain, researchers aim to better identify patients who are more likely to experience persistent symptoms and need additional support following a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury.
  • Cortical Metrics LLC, Semora, N.C.: Cortical Metrics, LLC, is a startup company that was spun out of medical research conducted at the University of North Carolina. Researchers are developing a device shaped like a computer mouse that can connect to any computer or laptop. The device vibrates the fingertips and activates adjacent places in the brain that typically communicate with each other. A web-based computer program is being designed to measures a person's brain health by determining how well those places in the brain communicate with each other. This type of communication -- and the measurements -- usually deteriorates with the severity of concussion and improves with recovery.

* ImmunArray Inc., Richmond, Va., and Rehovot, Israel: Researchers at ImmunArray are working to confirm their discoveries in acute diagnosis and the connection between immune system response and the progression of a brain injury. This data could help determine the long-term effects of the injury, and will aid in the development of a simple blood test to diagnose a brain injury quickly and with certainty.

  • Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis: Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine's Center for Neuroimaging, with collaborators from St. Vincent Sports Performance, will use MRI to investigate how brain blood flow is altered after concussion in high school athletes. Blood flow provides oxygen and nutrients to the brain and is a critically important aspect of brain function, but little is known about the impact of concussion on brain blood flow in athletes. This study will advance understanding of concussions' effect on brain blood flow in the period shortly after injury and the relationship of these changes to post-concussive symptoms and cognitive functioning.
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine, Baltimore: Researchers at Johns Hopkins will use positron emission tomography (PET), a type of molecular brain imaging scan, to study several markers in the brains of active NFL players. The aim is to determine if certain molecular changes, detectable non-invasively by PET, are part of the biological changes leading to depression and memory deficits in the aftermath of repetitive, sports-related head trauma.
  • Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee: Using innovative MRI scanning technology, researchers at The Medical College of Wisconsin aim to determine the direct effects of sport-related concussions on brain structure and function. The aim of the study is to advance the discovery of more objective ways of diagnosing concussion, as well as determining when an athlete's brain has fully recovered and the athlete is fit to return to play after concussion.
  • University of Montana-Missoula: Researchers at the University of Montana are working to determine blood-based biomarkers that indicate how the brain reacts following a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Research to date has shown that TBI results in changes in how the brain operates and in levels of proteins and ribonucleic acids (RNA). Identifying specific biomarkers will show how the TBI changes the brain and could help doctors with diagnosis and treatment.
  • University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind.: Researchers at the University of Notre Dame, in collaboration with mobile software company Contect Inc., are developing a mobile app to provides athletic trainers, coaches, physicians, and parents a fast, simple and more objective way to detect concussions. Unlike traditional concussion screening methods that require medical equipment, training, and take a longer time to administer, this mobile technology is being designed to recognize the changes in speech acoustics that occur with concussions. The anticipated result is a more objective, highly mobile concussion screening test that will take only two minutes to perform.

University of Pittsburgh, Pa.: Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and its clinical partner University of Pittsburgh Medical Center are working to link impairments from concussion with changes in the brain using an imaging technique called high definition fiber-tracking (HDFT). Combining clinical evaluation approaches with HDFT may improve identification and diagnosis of concussion, predict the consequences of this varied injury, and help to determine when it is safe to return to activity.

  • Sunnybrook Research Institute, Toronto: Researchers at the Sunnybrook Research Institute are working to develop an imaging method to identify patients and athletes at risk for secondary injury after a concussion. Current health-care scans usually appear normal in these patients; however, after a concussion, the ability for brain blood vessels to respond to physiological challenges is reduced. Using advanced MRI, the researchers aim to detect this reduction to help better diagnose, monitor response to treatment and guide decision-making after mild head injury. This could, for example, be a standard way of determining the proper time to "return to play" in hockey or football, or resume work or physical activity.
  • Quanterix, Lexington, Mass.: Quanterix is at work to develop a simple blood test to aid in the detection of traumatic brain injury. Using its highly sensitive Simoa technology, Quanterix has been able to measure molecular signatures (biomarkers) of brain injury in blood. Quanterix' goal is to provide a blood test that could speed the diagnosis of a concussion in a clinical setting and on the sidelines in a sports arena and therefore improve treatment.
  • VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Espoo, Finland: Researchers from University of Helsinki and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland aim to study the reaction of small molecules (such as cholesterol, glucose, amino acids) in the body after a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). Through this research they aim to determine the response of these small molecules which could allow for a diagnosis of mild TBI from a blood test.
  • Weill Cornell Medical College, New York: Weill Cornell Medical College will use positron emission tomography (PET) and advanced MRI technologies to determine the earliest known biological responses to brain injury in professional boxers with well-established diagnoses of dementia, football players with recent concussions, and control patients who have never sustained a head injury. This study could deliver a method for validating simpler biomarkers that can be used to measure the severity of concussions in ordinary medical settings.

The Challenge I judges were:

  • Dr. William J. Heetderks, director of Extramural Science Programs at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB).
  • Dr. Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) at the National Institutes of Health.
  • General Peter Chiarelli, USA (Ret.), chief executive officer of One Mind for Research.
  • Colonel Dallas Hack, director of the Combat Casualty Care Research Program and the Chair, Joint Program Committee 6 (Combat Casualty Care), US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command.
  • And Dr. Geoff Manley, chief of neurosurgery at San Francisco General Hospital and Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF).

Launched in March 2013, the Head Health Challenge is part of the Head Health Initiative -- a four-year, $60 million collaboration between GE and the NFL to speed diagnosis and improve treatment for mild traumatic brain injury. The initiative includes a four-year, $40 million research and development program from the NFL and GE to evaluate and develop next-generation imaging technologies to improve diagnosis that would allow for targeting treatment therapy for patients with mild traumatic brain injury.

In addition the NFL and GE launched two open innovation challenge to invest up to $10 million in research and technology development to better understand, diagnose and protect against brain injury. The NFL, Under Armour and GE launched a second challenge, open now, to look for new innovations and materials that can protect the brain from traumatic injury and for new tools for tracking head impacts in real time. This second challenge will also award up to $10 million. Entries are welcome through January 30. For additional details on this challenge, and to view the terms and conditions, visit

-- NFL Communications and General Electric Communications.

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