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Media opportunity: Repeated, small hits to the heads of football players may damage the small blood vessels of the brain: Dalhousie University research

Posted by Communications and Marketing on April 4, 2024 in News

Repeated blows to the heads of football players can damage the small blood vessels of the brain, according to research by Dalhousie University scientists who believe that this damage contributes to brain dysfunction in some athletes years after play has ended.

The neuroscientists found that the brain’s blood vessels can get damaged by a succession of small hits and not necessarily a single, intense blow to the head. They hypothesize that players whose blood vessels don't heal over time may develop long-term inflammation in the brain and a greater risk of future brain dysfunction. That can include mobility and emotional issues, and cognitive decline.

The research centred on the blood-brain barrier (BBB) -- the lining of the brain’s blood vessels that blocks harmful substances from entering the brain. When that barrier leaks due to hits or injury, foreign molecules can seep from the blood vessels into the brain and trigger inflammation that can undermine brain function.

The study was led by Prof. Alon Friedman, the Dennis Chair of Epilepsy research at Dal's Department of Medical Neuroscience; Dr. David Clarke, chief of Neurosurgery at the Nova Scotia Health Authority; Dr. Casey Jones, resident physician in the Emergency Medicine program at Dalhousie; and, Dr. Lyna Kaminsky, a post-doctoral fellow in Prof. Friedman’s lab.

It was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and involved specialized helmets that were used to monitor head impacts in 60 university football players. Five athletes who sustained a concussion during the football season underwent MRI scanning to detect BBB leakage. The leakage was found to be more linked to impacts sustained in all games and practices leading up to the concussion, rather than the last pre-concussion impact.

Dr. Friedman and Dr. Jones are available to discuss the preliminary findings and how they add to the understanding of concussions, while also influencing decisions about when players are safe to return to play.


Media contact:

Alison Auld
Senior Research Reporter
Communications, Marketing and Creative Services
Dalhousie University  
Cell: 1-902-220-0491  


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