Federal Grant Funds New Study of Head Impacts in Youth Football

October 27, 2015

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers will join colleagues from longtime collaborator Virginia Tech and two other universities in the largest and most comprehensive biomedical study of youth football players conducted to date.

The five-year project is being funded by a $3.3 million grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, part of the federal National Institutes of Health.

“The potential impact of this study is significant because there are more than 3 million youth football players across the country, which is about three-quarters of all U.S. football players,” said Joel Stitzel, Ph.D., professor and chair of biomedical engineering at Wake Forest Baptist. 

Using sensors installed in helmets and – for the first time – mouth guards, the researchers will track on-field head impacts and rotations experienced during both practices and games by 9- and 10-year-old players on six youth league teams.

Wake Forest Baptist, Virginia Tech and Brown University will each collect data from players on two teams in their respective areas over the five years. The researchers also will monitor the individual players until they reach age 14.

Data from the helmet and mouth guard sensors will be transmitted instantly to researchers on the sidelines, monitoring all impact levels. All the teams’ practices and games will be videotaped to match sensor data with visuals of on-field impacts. The participating players also will undergo off-field neurocognitive examinations, coordinated by University of Nebraska researchers.

"Collecting this data during the next five years will allow for evidence-based decisions across a range of applications, including improved clinical detection techniques and potential ways to improve youth football helmet design,” said the study’s primary investigator, Stefan Duma, Ph.D., professor and department head of biomedical engineering and mechanics at Virginia Tech.

This study builds upon previous studies on the various effects of head impacts on youth and high school football players conducted by the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

This research at Wake Forest Baptist is partially supported by $15,000 in additional funding from the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma. Since the study of the head impacts in youth football began, the Childress Institute has provided nearly $500,000 in support of the research.

Media Relations

Shannon Putnam: news@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-4587

Marguerite Beck: marbeck@wakehealth.edu, 336-716-2415