Earlier this month, Harvard University announced that it was beginning a new set of studies in its second year of a partnership with the NFLPA called the Football Players Health Study at Harvard University. The studies, as implied by the title, seek answers to a variety of health-related issues that football players suffer through during their playing career.
According to Harvard Medical School’s website, the studies are narrowly defined as spanning a year with goal-oriented objectives based on $150,000 in grant funding for each individual case. Before looking into the areas that the project intends to tackle in the future, I think it is worth taking a look at the work that they did last year.
The FPHS looked at three separate studies last year, involving ACL injuries, concussions, and myocardial dysfunction, and, at least according to their own reporting, there seems to be intriguing and encouraging work being done.
The nature of the anterior cruciate ligament makes it virtually impossible for it to heal itself, meaning that a player must have the ligament surgically repaired. This results in osteoarthritis later in life in the majority of cases, and while improvements have been made in recent years, it is still far too often the case that an individual is unable to ever fully regain his previous level of mobility and general performance.
The first study explored a technique that allows an ACL to heal itself. There are clinical trials being undertaken in which a bridge or scaffold is employed in order to hold the two torn ends together long enough to allow it to begin to self-repair. Animal studies have shown this technique to be effective in initiating self-repair and in preventing osteoarthritis.
The second study sought to find new, viable treatments for traumatic brain injury as sustained during a concussion. The study uses the hypothesis that the molecule ATP in living cells is integral to the sustained recovery of a concussion.
By subjecting concussed brain cells to red/near-infrared light in a double-blind trial, researchers are hoping to find that increased stimulation of ATP will encourage a faster and more thorough recovery from traumatic brain injury.
The last study explored by the FPHS begins with the notion that football players are strength training athletes, and that strength training puts a strain on the heart, making the heart walls stiff and inflexible, forcing it to exert itself more in order to carry out its basic functions.
The focus of this project is to increase the general understanding of intense strength training in relation to cardiac function. The end goal is to, presumably, create a better informed means of strength training, and perhaps to gain a better understanding of early warning signs of heart issues.
There were over 150 proposals for future studies submitted last year for the FPHS to pursue, 15 of which were asked to submit a full application. Four research teams were awarded the $150,000 grants, which we will be taking a look at tomorrow.