GE and NFL take the wraps off their $40M research project for tackling concussions

Football tackle

Amid rising concern about the long-term effects of concussions, GE and the National Football League on Monday unveiled a $40 million research initiative and $20 million “open innovation challenge” aimed at improving the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injuries.

About a month ago, in the midst of all the Super Bowl hoopla, the organizations said they would take on the issue.  But at a New York event today, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt and GE healthymagination CEO Sue Siegel will share the details.

The announcement comes on the heels of an football season full of concussion-centric headlines — the league is mired in litigation related to concussions, studies continue to connect long-term brain damage to contact sports and more companies are trying to build concussion-monitoring and -mitigating helmets.

The NFL no doubt hopes the new initiatives can help boost its reputation. But Siegel, a leading health investor who left Mohr Davidow Ventures last year to lead GE’s healthymagination division, said the research should have wide-ranging impacts. GE already has a big footprint in diagnostic and medical imaging equipment, but the field offers even more opportunity.

“What a lot of people don’t know is that [traumatic brain injury] is not specific to football,” said Siegel. “It’s a rich area for study so we can understand what it means, be able to prevent it better, be able to diagnose it in a more granular way and monitor people to help with their treatment therapies over time.”

Not only could the research contribute to applications for other athletics, like women’s soccer, race car driving and equestrian sports, it could have implications for the military and even public health efforts in emerging markets, like parts of Africa, where road accidents are a leading cause of death, Siegel said.

The four-year $40 million dollar research initiative aims to evaluate and develop next-gen imaging technologies to improve diagnosis, outcome prediction and therapy management for those with mild traumatic brain injury. The project’s advisory board includes top neurosurgeons, sports medicine leaders and brain researchers.

The $20 million open innovation challenge, which is also supported by Under Armour, focuses on technologies for identifying and managing brain injury as well as new materials that protect against and track brain injury. Siegel said the challenge is open to innovators in all fields and that previous similar challenges targeting cancer and energy efficiency attracted about 500 submissions.

As more attention turns to concussions and brain injuries, GE and sports leagues aren’t the only parties interested in developing technology to address them. In the last couple of months, startups like Brain Sentry and X2 Biosystems, which use sensors to monitor head impact, have attracted funding from investors.

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