For the next two years, Lara McKenzie will search for answers to one of the most pressing health concerns in youth sports. The principal investigator for Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Center for Injury Research and Policy is helping lead a two-year project that will test an innovative new mobile application called Spot Light. Developed by a Columbus-based company, Inlightened, LLC,, the app could give parents, doctors and athletic trainers a more convenient and effective way to diagnose and monitor traumatic brain injuries in young athletes.
“We have laws in Ohio and other states about what needs to happen when there’s a concussion, but there’s really not a system to help people track what they’re doing,” Dr. McKenzie says.
A partnership between the National Institutes of Health and the National Football League is funding the project. In 2012, the NFL gave $30 million to the NIH to support research studies on athletic injuries, with a particular emphasis on brain trauma. The Nationwide Children’s project was one of eight studies awarded funding in December after a rigorous scientific review process.
Concussions have emerged as a major public health concern in recent years. Media attention has focused on the plight of former professional football players, but younger players also are at risk. “Young athletes are more susceptible to concussion than older athletes, and can have more severe, acute and longer-term implications,” Dr. McKenzie says.
In late summer, Dr. McKenzie and her co-project leader, Dawn Comstock, a former Nationwide Children’s researcher who’s now at the University of Colorado in Denver, will begin tracking 200 high school and middle-school football teams from all over the country. Half will be supplied with Spot Light, while the other half will use an online reporting system. The researchers want to see if the app (which includes a common test for diagnosing concussions) will result in increased rates of concussions, more physician referrals and better compliance with return-to-play guidelines.
NIH reviewers selected the project for its practical value, along with the strong reputations of its primary investigators. “They had a lot of credibility,” says Ramona Hicks, program director for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “The have done work in this area, so they were seen as people who would be able to do this, and are knowledgeable about the field.”