Lab Canada

$20M Head Health Challenge rewards Toronto brain researcher

Toronto, ON – GE and the National Football League (NFL) have announced 16 winners in the first round of the $20 million “Head Health Challenge”. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre neurosurgeon, Dr. Leodante da Costa, is the first international award winner and his research could become a standard way of more effectively determining the proper time to return to play in sports, resume work or physical activity after a mild traumatic head injury or concussion.

Challenge winners each receive $300,000 in funding to advance their research.  Launched in 2013, the challenge aims to enhance the understanding of traumatic brain injury and advance technology solutions to better diagnose and treat such conditions.

“We launched the challenge as a call to action to fast-track advancement in head health,” said Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures & healthymagination. “The challenge has shown us a remarkable number of breakthrough ideas that deserve attention, investment and further research. By advancing the work of these winners, we will better understand brain injuries suffered by athletes and members of the military and improve our knowledge of the brain overall which could help improve our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”

Dr. da Costa’s research was selected among 400 entries from 27 countries.  His research focuses on ways to detect and measure the ability of the blood vessels in the brain to respond in the event of head injury.  The research was highlighted as an area of interest by the challenge’s panel of leading healthcare experts and advocates in brain research and imaging technologies.

“We are most pleased to receive this funding that will help us to extend our work in improving imaging diagnosis of patients with traumatic brain injury,” he said. “With mild head injuries, such as a fall on the ice while playing hockey or during a play in football, head scans often come back normal.  Often the patient is walking, talking, might seem fine, and is sent back home and told to go back to work after a few days of rest.”

“But we know that 15 to 30 percent of these patients will have more persistent issues with concentration, focus, memory and mood changes that will make it difficult for them to carry on with their activities,” he added.

“Currently we can’t tell which ones are in trouble and which aren’t; these are the patients that come back and keep receiving the same diagnosis because we currently don’t have enough information to recognize them. Our goal is to be able to better identify those patients and athletes at risk of persistent symptoms and secondary injury after concussion or apparently mild day-to-day injuries that can sometimes be missed, so we can be better equipped to diagnose, monitor response to treatment and guide decision making.”

GE and the NFL will also support Dr. da Costa’s research through ongoing mentorship and access to GE’s researchers, facilities and industry expertise. Up to five awardees from this first round will be eligible for an additional $500,000 award in 2015.

The Head Health Challenge is part of a larger four-year, $60 million collaboration between GE and the NFL to speed diagnosis and improve treatment for mild traumatic brain injury. This includes a $40 million R&D program to evaluate and develop next generation imaging technologies.

GE, the NFL and Under Armour have launched the second round of the Head Health Challenge which will explore innovations in materials that can protect the brain from traumatic injury, and new tools for tracking head impacts in real time. Entries are welcomed through January 30th, 2014 for additional information, visit