Professors receive studies for concussion research

Trevor Drew

Nine research proposals earned support from NMU Faculty Research Grants for the 2016-17 academic year. Among these research proposals was an interdisciplinary project that will assess the potential utility of a novel neuroimaging device in measuring brain activity of post-concussion college athletes.

Every year the faculty grant committee carefully evaluates several faculty research grant proposals to determine which ones will receive support. The committee uses  detailed evaluation forms that rank proposals in subjects such as a statement of purpose, significance of project and methodology, said Erica Goff, director of NMU Grants and Contracts.

The proposals that earn the highest ranking receive funding of about $7,000, which can lead to larger external funding, Goff said.

“Whether someone goes on to a bigger project or not if they are publishing a book with the $7,000 grant that’s great for them because they are being interactive in their discipline. They are learning more, they are keeping up with the times,”  Goff said.  “None of the disciplines are stagnant. They are changing all the time, so to be an academic you need to also change with the times and be active and contribute.”

With the help of their grant, Professor Josh Carlson, psychology, and Professor Marguerite Moore, health and human performance, will assess the potential utility of near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) in measuring post-concussion brain activity in collegiate athletes. NIRS uses near-infrared light to measure areas of the brain that are consuming more oxygen and are therefore presumed to be more active, Carlson said.

The funding will be used to compensate athletes who participate in the study as well as student researchers who will aid in the collection and analysis of data during the summer and into fall, the professors said.

“It will give them, obviously, a little bit of money but more importantly the experience to help with whatever they may pursue after Northern, whether it’s graduate school or different employment opportunities,” Carlson said.

Instead of examining a person’s brain activity immediately after a concussion, the study will aim to see if small irregularities are present long after the athlete has fully recovered from their injury by comparing those athletes with similar athletes who have no history of concussions, Moore said.

Moore has been studying concussions for the last four years but recently needed more advanced technology to further her research, she explained. Carlson’s background studying brain functions such as emotion and image processing in healthy populations using neuroimaging made him a perfect fit for the collaborative project.

The professors are still selecting students and participants to aid the study. The project will begin in the summer and conclude in the early fall. Depending on their findings, the team hopes to be able to seek larger external funding from institutes like the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation to study more long-term effects of concussions and analyze more aspects to the study such as age and gender, Carlson said.

“This immediate data is just meant to get us started in the search,” Carlson added. “It all depends on what we find.”