PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Could a certain kind of brain imaging called high definition fiber tracking help diagnose concussion and assess recovery?

“I wanted to create a technology to make a circuit diagram of the brain for both basic science and clinical science purposes, and we found it had real value in the study of trauma,” says Walter Schneider, PhD, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Learning Research and Development Center.

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As part of the first ever Head Health Initiative, the University of Pittsburgh is getting a $300,000 grant from the NFL to study this.

The one-year project will study more than 50 athletes ages 13 to 28 who have a head injury within one week of their first evaluation at the UPMC Sports Medicine concussion program.

It will involve a physical exam, balance and vision tests, and memory and concentration tests, as well as the imaging.

“To look at the cables of their brain, to examine them for any potential breaks as a result of a sports injury,” explains Dr. Schneider. “Depending on whether it is a break of a cable from memory or a break from a cable from motor, different subsystems then don’t operate properly.”

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This special type of MRI scan can see if specific pathways in the brain are damaged by measuring water within nerve cells. CT, regular MRI, and functional MRI can’t do that.

He compares visualizing concussions to seeing broken bones on an x-ray.

“We have to get to the point of seeing the damage and managing that problem in the brain,” he says. “The challenge here is to get the technology so that it is robust, that we can find really small damage, because when you see that small damage, that should be a clear indicator that you’ve got to give the system time to heal.”

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Dr. Maria Simbra