The Harvard Medical School received a $100 million grant from the National Football League Players Association to find new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent injuries and illness related to the sport.
The 10-year initiative, called the Harvard Integrated Program to Protect and Improve the Health of NFLPA Members, will address both active and retired players, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based school said in a news release.
More than 2,000 NFL players have filed more than 80 lawsuits against the league seeking damages for head injuries sustained on the field. The Harvard study will look beyond head injuries, to areas such as heart function and knee ligaments.
“Our goal is to transform the health of these athletes,” Lee Nadler, the medical school’s dean for clinical and translational research and the program’s director, said in a statement. “In order to extend the life expectancy and quality of life of NFLPA members, we must understand the entire athlete, all the associated health risks, and all of their interactions.”
The study is aimed at improving NFL players’ health and further understanding the sport’s risks. Harvard said it will seek collaboration from other institutions around the country and internationally.
Junior Seau, the former San Diego Chargers linebacker who committed suicide in May, was suffering from the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which was caused by repeated head injuries, according to a statement from the National Institutes of Health. Similar results were found in the autopsies of at least two other ex-NFL players who killed themselves, Andre Waters and Dave Duerson.
Harvard’s research will include clinical studies of retired NFL players. A group of at least 1,000 retirees will be identified, from which 100 healthy and 100 unhealthy players will be chosen to help create what Harvard calls a “biological profile of illness.”
In September, the NFL pledged $30 million, its largest philanthropic gift, to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health to fight serious medical conditions in athletes.
Among the innovations the study will look to create is “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,” according to the release.