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Grant to UC Riverside School of Medicine will help advance research on concussions


RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The School of Medicine (SOM) at the University of California, Riverside has received a grant from The Hoag Foundation to conduct research ultimately aimed at benefiting athletes who suffer concussions.

Specifically, SOM researchers will identify genetic and inflammatory biomarkers – distinct biological indicators at the cellular, biochemical or molecular level of a condition like concussion – that can predict the outcome following concussion in young athletes.

The $110,000 award is allowing the researchers to involve local "at-risk" athletic communities (athletes, parents, trainers) and clinicians in defining the essential elements of the study. The award allows at-risk communities and clinicians to partner with UCR researchers to identify community concerns, raise awareness of concussion throughout the larger community and recruit participants for concussion studies. A core practical outcome of the award is a day-long symposium that will bring together the community and SOM researchers to discuss health risks of concussion of most concern to the community and clinical partners. Panels will comprise patients and parents, clinical and scientific experts, and the SOM community.

"We are delighted to receive this generous grant which is allowing us to conduct an 18-month pilot study to determine the outcomes of most concern to the community as well as the best enrollment and sample collection practices for at-risk communities," said Monica Carson, a professor of biomedical sciences and the director of the Center for Glial-Neuronal Interactions (CGNI) that focuses on brain health. "CGNI will support the pilot study by providing administrative assistance as well as student and faculty researchers."

David Franklin, a professor of clinical sciences and co-director of the study, added, "The data and analyses generated will be used to develop a second full study combining areas of high concern for both the at-risk community and clinicians seeking to provide the best care following a concussion."

Concussion is often called "mild traumatic brain injury" in some medical specialties. A direct blow to the head, face, neck or elsewhere on the body may cause a concussion if the force is transmitted to the brain. Typically, short-lived impairment of neurological function follows, lasting a few minutes to hours. In some cases, neuropathological changes set in. Loss of consciousness can also follow a concussion.

Symptoms of concussions vary among athletes. They include headaches, dizziness, unsteady balance, visual problems, sensitivity to light/noise, confusion, change in concentration, memory loss, difficulty in making decisions, depression, impulsivity and changes in sleep and appetite. For most athletes these symptoms resolve within a week; in some individuals, however, the symptoms last weeks or months.

At the high school level in the United States, concussions make up an estimated 8.9 percent of all athletic injuries, with football being the biggest offender. Soccer and basketball produce the highest concussion rates among high school female athletes in the country.

"Ultimately, we want to define risk factors and indicators that distinguish those athletes able to recover expeditiously from injury from those athletes that suffer from multiple symptoms for several weeks to months," Carson said. "This we will do in a subsequent full study that will be shaped by what we learn from the at-risk community concerns and preliminary data. Our initial studies are focusing on responses to single concussions but will provide helpful information for future studies on multiple concussions."

Franklin added that the pilot study will use biomarkers and genetics along with imaging techniques to identify those student athletes who are at the greatest risk of developing prolonged concussive symptoms. "These methods may help us define how brain rest could be improving symptoms and also tell us how long a brain rest may be needed before the injured athlete can return to play," he said. "The initial pilot study will establish the enrollment, collection and evaluation parameters required for the full study."

UCR and The Hoag Foundation both share a passion to help support the future medical research and technology needed to enhance the health and wellness of children.

The mission of the UCR School of Medicine is to expand and diversify the region's physician workforce and to improve the health of the community through innovative research, clinical care and education. The school is the one of six medical schools in the UC system.

The mission of The Hoag Foundation is to educate, empower and create greater opportunity for at-risk children, support medical research and technology, clinical care and support to enhance the health and well-being of; and support such other compelling purposes that will enhance the quality of life for children and their families.

The University of California, Riverside is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.


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