Almost every week there is another item in the news about head injuries in major league sports, most prominently the NFL. Studies reveal that a high percentage of NFL players have the brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which can only be diagnosed after death. NFL Hall of Fame player and analyst Frank Gifford
was diagnosed with the disease after passing away in August 2015. The movie Concussion, starring Will Smith, is a hard look at the problem of head injuries in the NFL that brought even more attention to the issue.
Senior research scientist Kevin Jackson, at the Beckman Institute is working on a new device that could help athletes who suffer head injuries. The problem is not just about concussion. Players that suffer repeated head trauma often experience depression, anxiety, memory loss and personality changes.
In 2009 Jackson began working on a project that looked at cooling the head and neck areas of players in an effort to reduce swelling, inflammation and other effects of not just concussions, but the every day bumps that athletes often receive during play.
Jackson worked alongside Dr. Huan (John) Wang, a neurosurgeon/researcher at Carle Foundation Hospital, and a group of scientists who were developing a device to accomplish rapid cooling. The technology they used was originally intended for combat soldiers who had been injured in the field. A special cooling helmet was created which would induce hypothermia on the skull and neck, but in a safe and regulated manner. Studies
had shown that cooling the injured neurons and axioms in the brain could reduce trauma.
In an article from the Beckman Institute he said
, “We were working on technology for soldiers and I realized that a lot of what we were researching fit directly into athletics.” Jackson has both a science and athletic background, having played college football for the University of Illinois while he earned a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science. He received his Ph.D. in 2003 and has been involved in both science and sports throughout.
In addition to his work with the Beckman Institute he also serves as a sports injury monitor for the Illinois Athletic Department to help coaches understand the complexities of brain injuries and get them to understand when a player needs to be examined. In an article on ChicagoInno.com he said
, “We know that there is going to be some cognitive impairment down the line. But the trick is figuring out if we can catch it earlier and if there are other things paired with it.”
Traumatic brain injuries can be difficult to diagnose since there are so many different factors that will affect the long term prognosis in players. One player might not show any symptoms, but could have a serious injury while another player might take a light hit and wind up with multiple issues.
Check out the video below to see more about this cooling helmet and how it might help those who have suffered a concussion or traumatic brain injury.