Is the NFL Trying to Control the Science on Brain Trauma?

Despite the NFL’s $30 million earmarked for traumatic brain injury studies, none of it will go toward the NIH’s latest $16 million research project.

[DIGEST: The New York Times, ESPN, NPR]

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced a seven-year, $16 million grant to research chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The NFL will not provide any of that money, despite having pledged $30 million toward CTE research in 2012.

CTE is linked to repetitive trauma to the head, often as a result of playing contact sports. It can be debilitating, with symptoms including depression, aggression and loss of memory and motor skills. It is particularly prevalent in football players. One recent study showed that of 91 former NFL players who donated their brains for research after their deaths, 87 of them tested positive for CTE.

Second Nexus
Credit: Source.

Currently, CTE can be diagnosed only by dissecting the brain after a person dies. The NIH grant aims to fund research that might allow specialists to detect the disease while the person is still alive. This would benefit affected players and those who are vulnerable, potentially leading to prevention. “

We don’t know enough, and if we want to be able to prevent a further cascade of progressive changes, we need to know what’s going on now and need to understand who’s more at risk,” said Martha Shenton, a Harvard University professor and director of the Psychiatry Neuroimaging Laboratory at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

Despite the obvious impact this study may have on the NFL and its players, none of the $30 million the NFL pledged to the NIH for CTE research will be used. According to a person familiar with the process, the NIH asked to use some of it, but after encountering delays with the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH), which administers the money, the NIH decided to finance the research with other funds.

The NFL denied that the decision not to fund the study was theirs, stating through its spokesman, Brian McCarthy, “The NIH makes its own funding decisions.” Yet sources said that the NFL balked at the study because the project was being led by Dr. Robert Stern, a Boston University researcher who has been critical of the NFL. Stern publicly opposed the NFL’s $1 billion

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