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Partnering with Michigan Athletics

The Concussion Center has offered baseline testing in collaboration with Michigan Athletics since 2018. This year, we continue our endeavor to gain valuable data and reinforce our commitment to student-athletes on campus and our research community.

By conducting these tests, we create a benchmark against which athletic trainers and clinicians can measure any potential changes in an athlete’s condition following a head injury. These objective measures are drawn from some of the most advanced concussion assessment and management protocols for athletes, such as the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT6)

“This is my first year participating in concussion baseline testing at U-M and I’ve come to appreciate its necessity and vitality in ensuring the safe return to play for athletes of all ages”, said Michaela Broadnax, Research Laboratory Manager. 

We had a great group of team members this summer, with a wide range of research and community health interests and backgrounds. Matthew Morley, Clinical Research Coordinator of the Concussion Center leads the team’s effort this year. He noted that several undergraduate and graduate students who were trained as facilitators are studying in the fields of neuroscience, kinesiology, molecular physiology, social work, and sports medicine. The experience continues to provide new students valuable hands-on training as testing facilitators, exposing them to vital, real-world applications in athletics and sports medicine. 

“The experience this year has been very rewarding. It’s given me valuable insight into the Michigan Athletics community and their tireless dedication to the health, safety, and well-being of the student-athletes” said Morely. 

“There was no question. The minute I got the acceptance here, I knew I was coming to Ann Arbor”. Those were the words of Sabrina Vega back in August 2021 when she started her master’s program in molecular and integrative physiology at the University of Michigan. Vega came to the university after completing a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in public health from the University of Georgia, hoping to one day go to medical school. 

She grew up in Carmel, New York, about an hour and a half outside of “The Big Apple” and at the age of four, began taking gymnastics classes. With a dream to become an Olympian, she would spend the next eight years training as a gymnast, and entering sixth grade, would move to homeschool to allow for a schedule that fit her training and competitive goals.

Over the next decade, through hard work, focus, and determination, Vega would find herself traveling all over the world competing as an elite gymnast. She held a spot on the USA national team for 5 years and helped the team win a world championship in 2011. After taking part in the 2012 Olympic trials shortly after, Vega fell victim to a few injuries and decided to leave elite gymnastics in pursuit of her academic career. 

After applying to a few colleges and being offered a handful of scholarships, she chose to become a Bulldog at UGA because of their legacy of NCAA athletics and an academic environment that would be a stepping stone to becoming a doctor. Vega still competed and was a 5x All-American, but was able to focus more on enjoying gymnastics instead of it seeming like a job. Following graduation, she began applying to master’s programs and would eventually end up at the University of Michigan.

After grad school, she spent a year working at Michigan Medicine as a patient care technician where she gained valuable experience that would add to her academic resume, and would later seek out an opportunity that could bridge the gap between gymnastics and medicine to satisfy her desire to give back to that community. That’s when she stumbled upon an article featuring Steven Broglio, Director of the Concussion Center, that focused on the rate of concussions in gymnasts.

Vega sent out a few cold emails to the Concussion Center and eventually found the opportunity she was looking for. In the summer of 2023, she began working with the Concussion Center doing research related to concussions in gymnasts, while also helping out with concussion baseline testing offered through the center.

Vega is currently applying to medical schools and hopes to start that journey in 2024. She currently resides in the Ann Arbor area with her dog, Loki, and can’t wait for the fall weather so she can break out the cozy sweaters and watch the vibrant colors of Michigan. She hopes to inspire future student-athletes to explore the STEM field, as many shy away from the sciences because of the added difficulty in that space, especially when focusing on athletics.

Dr. Abigail Bretzin and Ms. Michaela Broadnax represented the U-M Concussion Center at the Detroit Public School Community District’s (DPSCD) Athletic Symposium in [month]. This event saw the participation of approximately 180 coaches from the district, who gathered to deepen their understanding of best practices and techniques to ensure the safety and well-being of student-athletes. “The symposium was a great opportunity to meet with the leaders of DPSCD, and interact with the coaches and athletic coordinators of each school,” said Dr. Bretzin, “the structure of the overall symposium went very well and allowed each participant to contribute to the discussion regarding concussion recognition and management.”

The Concussion Center’s growing partnership with DPSCD started in the Spring of 2020 where a joint grant application on concussion was submitted. A comprehensive Concussion Toolkit was later launched in the spring of 2022, designed to assist the district’s coaches, students, parents and administrators with concussion management by providing educational materials and resources tailored to the district’s requirements.

The concussion-related information disseminated during this year’s Athletic Symposium relayed the most relevant information to coaches who often play a pivotal role in identifying early signs and symptoms of concussions.  The primary objective for the symposium was to foster a dialogue, emphasizing the intricacies of concussions – the physiological changes they trigger in the brain and the inherent risks of overlooking or trivializing the injury. “The coaches were great at keeping the conversation going,” Broadnax shared, “I was able to learn from their day-to-day experiences with their student-athletes and how they combat head injuries during practices and games. They are an amazing group of people, and our team looks forward to future opportunities to engage with DPSCD coaches, athletes, and administrators.”

“I  am so thankful to the University of Michigan Concussion Center for their continued partnership with DPSCD athletics. With their help, our coaches and staff are better equipped to help our student-athletes if they experience a concussion from start to finish.  In addition, they have given us a roadmap to better recognize, understand, care, provide, and how to get follow-up care regarding concussions”

Jay Alexander, Executive Director of DPSCD Office of Athletics

Over 120 coaches were in attendance at the Detroit Public Schools Community District-wide athletic coaches and administrator’s symposium.  “It was a great opportunity to have Michigan Concussion Center teaching classroom sessions.  Our coaches raved about what they learned and how to provide care for our student-athletes”, said Alexander.

Ongoing education and open dialogue are important in ensuring the safety of our young athletes. The partnership between the U-M Concussion Center and DPSCD not only signifies a step forward in concussion awareness but also underscores the collective commitment of educators, coaches, and healthcare professionals to the well-being of student-athletes. As we continue to arm those on the front line with the knowledge and resources needed, we remain hopeful for a future where student-athletes can pursue their passions with minimized risks and maximized support. 

Learn more:

With nearly 4 million concussions each year, it’s crucial to maintain our focus on acknowledging, supporting, and raising awareness about mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI). Beyond symptom recognition, it’s equally important to highlight the numerous options for individuals and families seeking rehabilitation after a concussion. As is often the case with injuries, receiving the appropriate care at the right time can significantly impact the journey toward a successful recovery.

In 2016, Brooke Mills, having personally experienced the need for greater concussion awareness years earlier, started her mission. What began as a friendly gym-class game became a lengthy battle with post-concussion symptoms. This journey ultimately led Mills to establish what we now recognize as National Concussion Awareness Day.

Designated on the third Friday of September, National Concussion Awareness Day was created to elevate the conversation surrounding concussions on a national scale. Supporters of this cause engage in various activities, such as fundraising for charities, sharing their stories on social media, and organizing events to demonstrate solidarity with those affected by mild traumatic brain injuries.

“Concussions do not need to stop you from living your best life, and the team at the University of Michigan Concussion Center is focused on not only helping better understand concussive injuries through advanced medical research, but also providing care to those that sustain the injury” said Dr. Steve Broglio, Director, U-M Concussion Center.

We invite you to join forces with the Concussion Center and countless others across the nation in acknowledging this significant day. Get out, spread awareness within your communities, and make a difference.

The University of Michigan Concussion Center invites nominations and applications for two tenure-track faculty positions to work at one of the world’s preeminent research institutions. As one of the highest-ranked public universities in the nation, the Concussion Center is an international leader in research, clinical care, and education.

●  One faculty position is open rank (Assistant, Associate or full Professor)

●  One faculty position is at the Assistant Professor rank 

We are seeking passionate concussion researchers to help the center by developing and sharing groundbreaking ideas that translate laboratory, clinic, and community observations into knowledge products that reduce concussion risk and improve outcomes in those affected by the injury.  The Concussion Center integrates our research, clinical, outreach & engagement cores to create novel solutions that advance concussion knowledge and protocols.  All research domains related to concussion will be considered, including candidates focusing on social and cultural health disparities in concussion prevention, identification, and management.

As the hub of concussion-related activity for the U-M community, the Concussion Center is proud to be located in a renovated facility in the heart of the Ann Arbor campus, with immediate access to clinical research and wet lab space.

U-M School of Kinesiology Building, where the Concussion Center is housed.
U-M School of Kinesiology Building, where the Concussion Center is housed.

Founded in 1817, the University of Michigan has a long and distinguished history as one of the first public universities in the nation. It is one of only two public institutions consistently ranked among the nation’s top ten universities.  With more than $1.7 billion in annual research expenditures, U-M has the second largest research expenditure among all universities in the nation, in addition to an annual general fund budget of $2.8 billion and an endowment valued at more than $17 billion. Adjacent to the central campus, Michigan Medicine, with its hospitals, clinics, and satellite offices, along with the Medical School, and School of Nursing, comprise one of the finest health systems in the country.  The university’s prominent athletic programs and outstanding teaching and research programs in medicine, engineering, and other related disciplines provide ideal collaborative opportunities for center faculty.

A landmark development in concussion management, the most recent iteration of the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool, known as SCAT6, has been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The SCAT6 is a thoroughly researched, standardized, and evidence-based tool used in the assessment and management of concussions in athletes. A team of international experts in the field of sports medicine, including the Concussion Center Director Dr. Steven Broglio, meticulously selected the components of the SCAT6 based on a review of the medical literature that included more than 420 published papers.

“It was an honor to contribute to the Concussion in Sport Group (CISG) that developed the SCAT6. The team’s focus was crystal clear –  ‘What are the best tools available to protect the health and well-being of active individuals?”

Steve Broglio, PhD, Director, U-M Concussion Center

Reflecting on his involvement, Dr. Broglio noted, “It was an honor to contribute to the Concussion in Sport Group (CISG) that developed the SCAT6. The team’s focus was crystal clear –  ‘What are the best tools available to protect the health and well-being of active individuals?’” The importance of timely identification and management of concussions for athletes’ safety and welfare cannot be overstated, and the SCAT is a widely acknowledged tool utilized by healthcare professionals to evaluate and monitor athletes who may have suffered a concussion. The SCAT6 is best used within the first 72 hours of a suspected injury and provides a structured approach to assessing concussions by evaluating a range of features commonly associated with concussion.

The U-M Concussion Center recently hosted Dr. Ruben Echemendia, lead author of the SCAT6, Director of the National Hockey League’s Neuropsychological Testing Program, and Co-Chair of the NHL/NHLPA Concussion Subcommittee, to discuss the process and method supporting the design of the new SCAT6 tool. In Dr. Echemendia’s presentation, he noted: “We (CISG) wanted a very structured format that had transparency, with a clinically applicable outcome. It’s a true approach towards translational knowledge and getting the information out there.”

The SCAT6 consists of several components, including a screening for injuries more severe than a concussion, a symptom evaluation, a cognitive assessment, and a coordination and balance examination. One of the significant benefits of SCAT6 is its standardized approach to concussion assessment. It enhances the accuracy and reliability of concussion evaluations, leading to more informed decision-making regarding an athlete’s health status. Moreover, the SCAT6 facilitates communication among healthcare professionals, coaches, and athletes.

“We wanted a very structured format that had transparency, with a clinically applicable outcome. It’s a true approach towards translational knowledge and getting the information out there.”

Ruben Echemendia, PhD, Lead Author of SCAT6

By adopting a common language and assessment tools, different stakeholders involved in an athlete’s care can effectively exchange information and collaborate on appropriate management strategies. This interdisciplinary approach helps ensure the athlete’s well-being and minimizes the risk of further injury.

While the SCAT6 is one part of the comprehensive evaluation process for concussions, it should be used in conjunction with a thorough medical evaluation performed by a healthcare professional. The launch of SCAT6 is a testament to the collaborative efforts of the international community ensuring athlete safety, providing that strides are being made towards better understanding and management of concussion in sports. 

Interested in hearing more from the co-authors of the SCAT6 Tool:

We are thrilled to share an important milestone in sports medicine – the latest release of the international Concussion in Sport Group (CISG) consensus statement on the management of sports concussions, hot off the press from the British Journal of Sports Medicine as of June 15, 2023.

The statements are published once every four years and lay the foundation for concussion management worldwide. This 2023 release marks the sixth statement the group has published since 2001. Each release represents our advanced understanding and management of sport-related concussions, safeguarding the health and safety of athletes worldwide. 

The CISG document distills the current scientific knowledge, research findings, clinical experience, and consensus among professionals working across a variety of settings. It provides a platform for ongoing dialogue and research. Concussion Center Director, Dr. Steven Broglio, had the privilege of co-authoring this statement. He observed, “It has been great to see the continual evolution of guidelines as our understanding of concussion grows. This consensus statement is the culmination of ten systematic reviews that screened over 78,000 citations and completed nearly 1500 full-text reviews. To be one of the 28 researchers and medical providers convening, deliberating, and ultimately deciding on the best recommendations to put forward was an honor.” Concussion Center members contributed to three of the ten systematic reviews.

Dr. Steve Broglio at the 6th International Consensus Conference on Concussion in Sport, October 2022

This statement serves as a pivotal document, providing guidelines and recommendations for the recognition, assessment, and management of concussions in sports. With a focus on evidence-based practices and a multidisciplinary approach to medical care, the CISG has successfully sketched a blueprint for a more harmonized understanding and consistent protocols across the sporting community. At the heart of this consensus statement lies a commitment to the safety and well-being of athletes. It provides clear guidelines on the removal and evaluation of athletes suspected of having a concussion, as well as structured and gradual return-to-learn and return-to-play protocols.

“To be one of the 28 researchers and medical providers convening, deliberating, and ultimately deciding on the best recommendations to put forward was an honor.”

Steve Broglio, PhD, U-M Concussion Center Director

The document serves as a valuable resource for healthcare professionals to access the best available evidence-based practices in the field of concussion management. It provides guidelines ensuring athletes are allowed the necessary time to recover fully, minimizing the risk of repeated injury. By bringing together different perspectives and expertise, the consensus statement contributes to the advancement of knowledge, identification of gaps, and the development of future research initiatives aimed at protecting the health and well-being of athletes across various disciplines.

Interested in hearing more from the co-authors of the CISG Consensus Statement:

The Concussion Center is proud to support Dr. Andy Hashikawa’s Pop-up Safety Town initiative, providing age-focused injury prevention resources to Michigan’s underserved communities.

Introduction to Pop-up Safety Town

Pop-Up Safety Town, a unique program dedicated to pediatric injury prevention education supported by AAA and the Auto Club Group Foundation, caters to young children and their families. In the 2022-2023 school year, Dr. Hashikawa led a multitude of successful events across the state. Locations included the Marygrove Conservancy in the Detroit Public School Community District, Cummings Head Start Center in Flint, Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD), Jackson, Ypsilanti, Addison, and Whitmore Lake. Our shared mission saw us fit over 600 helmets, a step towards our goal of extending our reach to more underserved communities. 

Dr. Hashikawa’s dedication to this cause is evident. He is already actively liaising with other districts, with a special focus on rural and tribal communities in dire need of these resources. In addition, we are working with student organizations, such as Medical Arabic at the University of Michigan, in organizing more events in Hamtramck, a region rich with a multicultural population with immigrant backgrounds. 

As we look to the future, Dr. Hashikawa aspires to broaden our approach to include children aged five and older, an idea informed by valuable feedback from administrators and families alike. To connect with Head Start centers and schools beyond our driving radius, including reaching the Native American Tribal Head Start programs in Michigan,  a “Safety Curriculum in a Box” program will be launched next year. This innovative concept involves creating four comprehensive lesson plans for teachers, complete with a dedicated website for orientation, handouts for parents, and a box filled with props to enrich each lesson. A series of educational videos have been developed covering crucial topics like helmet safety, pedestrian safety, medication safety, and dog bite prevention. Additional demonstration videos are planned for the coming year to enhance the core curriculum.

“This comprehensive approach sets us apart from other organizations in the field, making the U-M Concussion Center a leader in not only understanding concussions but also actively working towards preventing them.”

Andrew Hashikawa, MD, Clinical Professor, Emergency Medicine

As we reflect on the accomplishments in the past year, we remain cognizant that our mission to maximize societal impact is far from over. With every helmet fitted, every lesson given, and every community reached, we’ve seen the transformative power of early education in the sphere of injury prevention. “To ensure children have access, we offer free helmets and educate families on proper helmet-fitting techniques,” said Dr. Hashikawa, “By reaching out to preschool children and elementary students, our aim is to instill good safety habits from an early age, empowering families with knowledge that can help prevent head injuries. This comprehensive approach sets us apart from other organizations in the field, making the U-M Concussion Center a leader in not only understanding concussions but also actively working towards preventing them.”

The next Pop-up Safety Town event will be held on Friday, August 25th, 10:00AM – 1:00PM at the Beatty Early Learning Center (1661 Leforge Rd., Ypsilanti, MI 48198). Interested in learning more and lending a hand? Sign up HERE or Email: pop.up.safetytown@umich.edu.

Due to the nature of their sports, parasport athletes may be exposed to an increased risk of concussions. To support a better understanding of concussion risk and short and long-term outcomes in Paralympic athletes, the Concussion Center, along with the Exercise and Sport Science Initiative from the University of Michigan, is proud to announce a partnership with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USPOC).

Some parasports, such as wheelchair rugby, wheelchair basketball, and adaptive skiing, involve physical contact and the potential for collisions.  Factors such as the speed of play, physical contact, and equipment used can contribute to the likelihood of concussions. It is of utmost importance to promptly identify and appropriately manage concussions in parasport athletes, considering the injury’s potential short-term and long-term health impacts.  

Concussion evaluation and management for parasport athletes carry unique challenges. Not all athletes can undergo balance testing, and symptom reporting may vary from ablebodied athletes depending on the physical disability. Dr. Geoff Burns, the lead physiologist for the USOPC and Team USA, shared his enthusiasm about this new collaboration, stating, “We are excited to partner with the U-M Concussion Center. They bring tremendous knowledge and a clear mission that aligns with the needs of our international athletes”.

Initial research efforts will be centered around understanding the risk for concussion across several sports and levels of impairment and the biomechanical risk factors for concussion in combat and sliding sports. Plans for more long-term projects are still in the pipeline. Concussion Center director, Dr. Steven Broglio, expressed his eagerness, “The Olympics represent the pinnacle of athletic competition, and we are excited to offer our help and support to the para-athlete community. We have so much to learn about this group, I am confident we can have a positive impact quickly.”

“We are excited to partner with the U-M Concussion Center. They bring tremendous knowledge and a clear mission that aligns with the needs of our international athletes.”

Geoff Burns, PhD, Lead Physiologist for USOPC and Team USA

Dr. Kanagaraj Palsamy, fondly known as Kanagu, is no ordinary researcher. Currently a Research Investigator in the Department of Neurology at Michigan Medicine, he has been an integral part of the University of Michigan community since 2015. His journey began in Dr. Jack Parent’s laboratory as a post-doctoral research fellow, where he delved into the intricacies of brain injury, neuroinflammation, brain regeneration, and epilepsy disease modeling using a seemingly humble organism: the zebrafish. Kanagu has been working with zebrafish for 12 years and utilizing this remarkable animal for biomedical research to improve human life. Dr. Parent’s earlier work on epilepsy-induced aberrant neurogenesis in rats paved the way for adult neurogenesis in the mammalian brain.

Dr. Palsamy’s fascination with zebrafish as a preclinical research model started during his doctoral studies at Goettingen University in Germany. Leveraging his developmental biology training and skills acquired during his Master’s degree, he chose zebrafish for their unique breeding attributes that made them an excellent model for studying the central nervous system. Zebrafish shares 70% genetic homology with human and has almost all mammalian anatomical counterparts. Most importantly, they are amenable to pharmaceutical and genetic manipulations and suitable for live imaging with transgenic fish lines to monitor the development and physiological changes and suitable for robust drug screening for cures.

His first research focus was early development, particularly influenced by “maternal genetic mutations.” By inducing mutations in zebrafish mothers and mating them with normal/wild-type males, he could study the impacts on embryonic development. During his PhD, his mentor discovered several genetic mutants linked to early development and neurodegenerative disease in zebrafish. Interestingly, these observable characteristics are named with culinary terms, specifically, around eggs due to their severe defect in egg development during oogenesis. They are sunny side up, over-easy, ruehrei (German: scrambled eggs), and souffle/SPG15. Kanagu studied the souffle phenotype in zebrafish to understand the human disease, which shed light on how SPG15 mutation manifests early developmental defects and how, in humans, it induces progressive motor neuron degenerative disease called Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP). 

The zebrafish’s transparency, especially during the embryonic phase, made it possible to observe live developments without causing harm to the creatures (See more: NIHCD Zebrafish Development). Moreover, the prolific breeding of zebrafish – one female can produce around 300 embryos weekly – provided ample subjects for in vivo research,  the embryo develops outside and completes the whole animal development in 48 hours. In addition, zebrafish have a phenomenal capability to regenerate almost every part of their brain after injury (Kanagaraj et al., 2022 Biorxiv https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.10.08.330662).

Youtube: WIRED Science, “Zebrafish Brain”

Ultimately, Dr. Palsamy aims to translate his preclinical findings from zebrafish research into practical solutions to promote human brain repair. Kanagu focuses on immune cells’ reaction and role in promoting brain repair after injury. Intrigued by the field of concussion research, Kanagu contemplated the similarities and differences between zebrafish and humans when it comes to concussion symptoms and responses. By carefully administering controlled needle-induced brain injuries or non-penetrating forces to induce concussions in zebrafish brains, these experiments will contribute to a deeper understanding of concussions and their impact on zebrafish, potentially paving the way for future collaboration with Concussion Center members. He wants to study how zebrafish repair their brain when subjected to TBI using the weight drop method and how repeated TBI/concussion in their early life period will affect their regenerative ability and cognitive behaviors. 

When he is not conducting research or writing grant applications, Dr. Palsamy leads an active life. A sports enthusiast, he has participated in the cricket national league in Germany, enjoys badminton, and has a passion for dance. He is also a food connoisseur and can recommend some excellent places for authentic Indian food in Ann Arbor, such as Everest Sherpa and Shalimar on Main Street.