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doctor checking boy for concussion

NINDS awards $10 million for pediatric concussion research

doctor checking boy for concussion

Every year, more than 3 million Americans are diagnosed with concussions. Symptoms continue to plague 30 percent of patients three months after injury — adolescents face an even higher risk of delayed recovery.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has awarded a $10-million grant to the Four Corners Youth Consortium, a group of academic medical centers studying concussions in school-aged children. Led in part by the Safe Concussion Outcome Recovery and Education (SCORE) program at Children’s National Hospital, the project is named Concussion Assessment, Research and Education for Kids, or CARE4Kids.

Researchers will use advanced brain imaging and blood tests to explore biological markers—changes in blood pressure, heart rate and pupil reactivity—that could predict which children will develop persistent symptoms after concussion. The five-year CARE4Kids study will enroll more than 1,300 children ages 11-18 nationwide.

The five-year study will be led by Gerard Gioia, Ph.D., division chief of Neuropsychology at Children’s National Hospital, Frederick Rivara, M.D., M.P.H., at Seattle Children’s Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development and University of Washington’s Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, and Dr. Chris Giza at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

“We will be gathering innovative data to help answer the critical question asked by every patient: ‘When can I expect to recover from this concussion?’” said Dr. Gioia. “We have a great team and are excited to have been selected to study this important issue.”

Christopher G. Vaughan, Psy.D., neuropsychologist, and Raquel Langdon, M.D., neurologist, both at Children’s National, will join Dr. Gioia as principal investigators of the study at this site.

Every year, more than 3 million Americans are diagnosed with concussions. Symptoms continue to plague 30 percent of patients three months after injury—adolescents face an even higher risk of delayed recovery. Chronic migraine headaches, learning and memory problems, exercise intolerance, sleep disturbances, anxiety and depressed mood are common.

“Providing individualized symptom-specific treatments for youth with a concussion has been a longstanding aim of the SCORE program,”Dr. Vaughan said. “This project will lead to a better understanding of the specific markers for which children may have a longer recovery. With this knowledge, we can start individualized treatments earlier in the process and ultimately help to reduce the number of children who experienced prolonged effects after concussion.”

The grant was announced on September 9, 2021.

In Washington, D.C., an estimated 240 children ages 11 to 18, will participate in the study.

The study will unfold in two phases. The first part will evaluate children with concussion to identify a set of biomarkers predictive of persistent post-concussion symptoms. To validate the findings, the next stage will confirm that these biomarkers accurately predict prolonged symptoms in a second group of children who have been diagnosed with concussion. The goal is to develop a practical algorithm for use in general clinical practice for doctors and other health professionals caring for pediatric patients.

Institutions currently recruiting patients for the study include Children’s National Hospital, UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, Seattle Children’s, the University of Washington, University of Rochester, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Wake Forest School of Medicine. Indiana University, the National Institute of Nursing Research, University of Arkansas, University of Southern California and the data coordinating center at the University of Utah are also involved in the project.

Earlier research conducted by the Four Corners Youth Consortium that led to this project was funded by private donations from Stan and Patti Silver, the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program and the UCLA Easton Clinic for Brain Health; Children’s National Research Institute; as well as from the Satterberg Foundation to Seattle Children’s Research Institute; and an investment from the Sports Institute at UW Medicine.

doctor showing girl with concussion three fingers

Post-traumatic headache phenotype and recovery time after concussion

doctor showing girl with concussion three fingers

In a recent study published by JAMA Network Open, Gerard Gioia, Ph.D., division chief of Neuropsychology and director of Safe Concussion Outcome, Recovery and Education (SCORE) Program at Children’s National Hospital, along with other leading researchers, described the characteristics of youth with post-traumatic headache (PTH) and determine whether the PTH phenotype is associated with outcome.

Concussions and mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI) are common among children and adolescents and constitute a major public health challenge. While symptoms from a concussion typically resolve days to weeks after injury, 10% to 30% of patients have symptoms that last longer than four weeks, and a smaller proportion have symptoms that persist for much longer.

PTH is defined as significantly worsened head pain attributed to a blow or force to the head. Although adolescents have a higher risk for sustaining concussions and developing persistent symptoms than younger children or adults, there is little data regarding PTH recovery and treatment in youth.

Dr. Gioia founded the multicenter Four Corners Youth Consortium to fill the gap in our understanding of youth concussion and recovery. This study is the first analysis of PTH phenotype and prognosis in this cohort of concussed youth.

The researchers analyzed headache-related symptoms from a validated questionnaire developed by Dr. Gioia and his Children’s National concussion research team. The primary outcomes were time to recovery and concussion-attributable headache three months after injury while the secondary outcome was headache six months after injury. Recovery was defined as resolution of symptoms related to a concussion.

Future large studies validating the classification of posttraumatic headache phenotypes in youth and studying outcomes are essential. PTH phenotyping will improve prognostication of concussion recovery and will enhance the treatment for PTH with more appropriate and targeted therapies to treat and prevent persistent and disabling headaches in youth with a concussion.

little girl with concussion at doctors

Predicting kids’ outcomes after concussion

little girl with concussion at doctors

A concussion symptom measurement tool, developed by investigators at Children’s National Health System, allows other researchers to collect valuable evidence about the natural progression of symptoms and recovery for children. The tool, Post-Concussion Symptom Inventory (PCSI), was a key tool in the recent large-scale multi-center prospective study of recovery trajectory for children, which was published online in JAMA Pediatrics Sept. 4, 2018.

That study included 2,716 children between the ages of 5 and 17, and identified major trends in symptom improvement post concussion, such as:

  • Children younger than 12 experience primary symptom improvement in the first two weeks
  • Pre-adolescents, male adolescents and teens experience primary symptom improvement in the first four weeks and
  • Female adolescents take longer to perceive primary symptom improvements than children, pre-adolescents and male counterparts.

“We’ve known for many years that different people experience concussion recovery very differently. This study is the first to provide significant evidence of what we should expect to see in terms of symptom improvement for children and teens,” says Gerard Gioia, Ph.D., chief of the Division of Neuropsychology at Children’s National and director of its Safe Concussion Outcome Recovery and Education Program, who co-authored the study and whose team developed the PCSI measurement tool. “Ultimately, these findings are an important step in predicting outcomes after a concussion and developing treatment plans that get kids back to school and sports safely, when they are ready.”

Dr. Gioia and his team also recently received a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grant to develop a new smartphone application, Online Treatment Recovery Assistant for Concussion in Kids (OnTRACK), that applies several concussion tools developed at Children’s National, including the same one applied in the JAMA Pediatrics study, to track individual symptoms over time.

The OnTRACK app will report concussion symptoms on a regular basis (daily or weekly) and map their trajectory, so doctors can see when recovery is proceeding along the expected pathway. Alternatively, clinicians will receive an alert when a child’s recovery misses targets and warrants further investigation and possible referral to a specialist.

Gerard Gioia

Concussion prevention and better management of youth concussions headline Sports Neuropsychology Society Concussion Symposium

Gerard Gioia

Gerard Gioia, Ph.D., an internationally recognized expert in pediatric concussion management, was named president of the Sports Neuropsychology Society at the conclusion of this year’s meeting.

“We know how critical it is to identify and appropriately treat every concussion, particularly when they happen early in an athlete’s career,” Children’s National President and CEO Kurt Newman, M.D.,  told a crowd of nearly 300 sports concussion experts gathered in Washington, D.C. for the Sports Neuropsychology Society’s (SNS) 6th Annual Concussion Symposium.

Children’s National served as a title sponsor of the conference, which serves as the annual meeting for SNS. Each year, members from around the world meet to share best practices in sports-related concussion management through presentation of evidence-based studies on a wide range of related topics. This year’s presentations included topics such as:

  • Sex differences in sport-related concussion: Incidence, outcomes and recovery
  • Concussion Clinical Profiles and Targeted Treatments: Building the Evidence
  • Legislative advocacy and the sports neuropsychologist
  • Treatment of concussion in kids: What we know, what we think we know, and what we need to learn

“This meeting and its agenda, held in D.C. where we’ve done so much work on understanding concussion management for children, is particularly meaningful for me because it really drives home our key message of a link between active participation in sports, appropriate recognition, management of youth concussions and the developing  athlete’s brain health,” says Gerard Gioia, Ph.D., division chief of neuropsychology and director of the Safe Concussion Outcome, Recovery and Education (SCORE) program at Children’s National.

Dr. Gioia, an internationally recognized expert in pediatric concussion management, was named president of the society at the conclusion of this year’s meeting, which was held in Washington, D.C. from May 3-5, 2018. During his two year term, he will work with members to advance the mission of SNS, which seeks to advance the field of neuropsychology to generate and disseminate knowledge regarding brain-behavior relationships as it applies to sports, and to promote the welfare of athletes at all levels.

“The way we can really help our youth athletes is by understanding how we can maximally prevent concussions in sports, and how we can manage those earliest concussions more effectively to minimize the negative long term consequences,” says Dr. Gioia.

The 38th Annual Telly Awards recognizes a Children’s National documentary

Shireen Atabaki

“I was very excited that our documentary was able to receive such an honor. We were able to successfully train 100% of D.C. Public School nurses, which makes all the difference when recognizing concussions in students and athletes,” says Shireen Atabaki, M.D., M.P.H.

The “Play Smart, Your Brain Matters” documentary was recently recognized at the 38th Annual Telly Awards, which honors excellence in video and television across all screens. In light of the Athletic Concussion Protection Act of 2011, the documentary was created as a training tool for the Concussion Care and Evaluation Training Program, funded by the D.C. Department of Health and hosted by Children’s National Health System and MedStar Sports Medicine.

According to the Athletic Concussion Protection Act of 2011, athletic, school and medical personnel are required to receive the proper preparation and training in concussion recognition and response. All athletes suspected of sustaining a concussion are to be removed from practice or play and only allowed to return to sport participation after a written clearance is given by a licensed healthcare provider who is experienced in the evaluation and management of concussions.

Emergency Medicine Specialist, Shireen  Atabaki, M.D., M.P.H., and expert in concussion and knowledge translations says, “I was very excited that our documentary was able to receive such an honor. We were able to successfully train 100% of D.C. Public School nurses, which makes all the difference when recognizing concussions in students and athletes.