Microsoft Corp. co-founder and Seattle Seahawk owner Paul Allen is investing $2.4 million to fund a two-year study into whether repeated blows to the head can cause dementia later life.
It is a bold and generous move for the wealthiest football team owner in the country. Critics have argued that athletic groups including the National Football League (NFL) have been slow to accept the severity of brain injuries and their potential long-term effects. Recent studies, however, have shed a startling light on just how serious repeated concussions can be to players and raised questions about how concussions are diagnosed amid concerns that players are being put back into the game before their brains have fully healed.
The focus of the concern has trickled down from professional players to college and even high school athletes. The issue began to weigh on the mind of Allen, who posed the question to his team’s neurological specialist. That conversation led to a Seattle-based collaboration to study the way repeated blows to the head can damage the brain and whether even mild concussions early in life can lead to dementia many years later.
Researchers with the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the University of Washington will study brains from the Group Health brain bank, which has had about 500 brains donated in the past 25 years. For each brain, researchers have collected data, including information that nearly 1 in 5 have suffered from some type of brain injury caused by everything from car accidents to war injuries.
The study on brain injury is a local next step from the Allen Institute’s initial focus, which has been on healthy brains. Researchers say they hope the project will inspire other scientists to explore prevention and treatment ideas for sports-related brain injuries.
The announcement of the new research project comes just months after former NFL players reached a $765 million settlement with the NFL. The agreement will cover medical testing and other fees for about 19,000 retired players. Last week, the NFL announced that it had formed a new organization to help former players with health and financial concerns.