Harvard is adding a new page to its playbook. The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) has awarded Harvard Medical School a $100 million grant to study and treat active and retired football players’ injuries and illnesses.
The 10-year initiative is called the Harvard Integrated Program to Protect and Improve the Health of NFLPA Members, according to the Harvard Gazette, who reports the program’s goal is to “improve the health and well-being of NFL players, while further elucidating the risks of participation in American football.”
Concussions pose a real risk. Researchers at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy released a study in December highlighting 28 new cases of chronic brain damage in deceased football players—15 of whom played in the NFL.
“Our goal is to transform the health of these athletes,” said Harvard Medical School Dean for Clinical and Translational Research Lee Nadler, director of Harvard Catalyst, to the Harvard Gazette.
Harvard Catalyst will direct the program, but bring in experts from a range of fields, including epidemiology, genetics, neurobiology and regenerative medicine. Researchers plan to partner with NFL players directly, and have already identified a group of at least 1,000 retired athletes. From that pool, researchers will run 100 healthy and 100 unhealthy players through a series of tests and examinations to create a “biological profile of illness.”
Major health problems the researchers are attempting to tackle include: a method for regrowing anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, tissue; advanced imaging techniques to measure and assess heart function; and new approaches to directly treating concussion injuries.
Through this partnership, members of Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center will also help address ethical, legal and policy issues relevant to players.
“In the United States, millions of kids and college athletes play football, formally and informally,” said Jeffrey Flier, dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Medicine, to the Harvard Gazette. “We cannot afford to ignore the health risks associated with this sport.”
Photo Courtesy of The Football Educator