GE, NFL and Under Armour launch $60M Head Health Initiative

Representatives from GE, the National Football League (NFL) and sporting apparel company Under Armour, along with a panel of experts on traumatic brain injuries, today announced the Head Health Initiative, a four-year, $60 million collaboration to speed diagnosis and improve treatment of mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).

The announcement comes at a time when concussions are a major topic of discussion in sports, particularly football, and as advances in MR technology have expanded knowledge of the damage done to brains by mTBI.

“We want to make a difference not just in football, but we want to make a difference in sports,” said Roger Goodell, NFL commissioner.

The initiative includes a four-year, $40 million research and development program to evaluate and develop next generation imaging technologies to improve diagnosis that would allow for targeting treatment therapy for patients with mTBI.

In addition, the companies also announced a pair of two-year, open innovation challenges, each offering multiple cash awards with a total value of up to $10 million apiece. The first challenge, which begins immediately, calls for proposals for technologies and imaging biomarkers that address identification and management of subclinical and mild traumatic brain injury. The second challenge, launching in fall 2013, focuses on proposals for new materials and technologies that can protect the brain from mTBI, as well as tools for tracking head impacts in real time.

“I think any physician or anybody in the healthcare industry would say that neurology is going to be a big area of science over the next five or 10 years,” said Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE, who added that the World Health Organization has predicted that by 2020, diseases of the brain will be the leading source of healthcare expenditures worldwide.

Following the announcement of the initiative, a panel of mTBI and neuroimaging experts commented on the state of current technology used to evaluate head injuries.

“We need better diagnosis,” said Russell Lonser, MD, of the department of neurological surgery at Ohio State University in Columbus and chair of the NFL head, neck and spine committee. “We need consistency among treatment and management protocols.”

Since the brain is an organ of structural connectivity, it’s not only a matter of how big the injury, but also where the injury is located, added Geoffrey Manley, MD, chief of neurosurgery at San Francisco General Hospital and professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, San Francisco. He said techniques like diffusion tensor imaging provide physicians with a view of the structure of the brain and this information can be combined with functional measurements for a more complete picture.

Outside of imaging, other clinical indicators of brain injury may become more important to diagnosis, such as the detection of certain proteins released in the blood stream when the brain is injured. “I actually see a suite of tools coming together in a multivariate way to be able to describe this problem,” said Manley.