A better understanding of the impact of childhood concussions on the developing brain, as well as better diagnostic and treatment tools, is "urgently needed," according to University at Buffalo neurosurgeon Elad Levy, MD, co-founder of a new organization called the Program for Understanding Childhood Concussions and Stroke (PUCCS).
Last month, Levy, whose 13-year-old son plays youth hockey, helped found PUCCS, a project of UB Neurosurgery and the Dent Neurological Institute, in response to what he calls an "epidemic" of injuries related to concussion in youth.
"Most people know a youth who has suffered a head injury," says Levy, noting that in the past couple of years, his son's hockey league has seen an increase in concussions.
He notes that while there is much more attention being paid in recent years to concussions among professional athletes, there hasn't been a similar emphasis on youth concussions.
"That's unacceptable because youth concussions strike directly at a child's growing brain and can directly affect his or her ability to learn," says Levy. "Children who have had concussions have gone from being straight-A students to becoming students who have major learning disabilities in school. The question is, how can we increase awareness for players, coaches and parents so that they better understand the consequences for concussion injury, while improving patients' chances for a full recovery?"
He says that the enthusiastic support of UB and Western New York, as well as USA Hockey, the sport's national governing body, and the prominent support of the Buffalo Sabres, has created a new opportunity to intensify efforts to boost medical research and educational awareness related to youth concussions.
Levy, a leading clinician and researcher in treating and preventing stroke in adults and children, wants to apply to childhood concussion the expertise and knowledge that he and his colleagues at UB have gained from their work with adult patients who have suffered strokes, concussions or other brain injuries.
The new organization will draw on research and clinical resources from the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, such as UB Neurosurgery, which the Journal of Neurology ranked seventh in the U.S. in academic impact, as well as sports medicine experts, like John J. Leddy, MD, director of the UB Concussion Clinic.
"This is an example of individuals from multiple medical specialties coming together to create a charity and raise funds to study concussion injury in young athletes," says Levy. "We want to use our research experience on the brain to better understand concussion and concussion injury, and to see how we can use it to help youths who have been injured."
He cautions that while concussions don't cause strokes, there are parallels in both conditions that demand further study.
"In a stroke, there is a severe alteration in blood flow to the brain," he says. "We're definitely not saying that concussions lead to stroke, but is there also some kind of alteration in brain blood flow that occurs during a concussion?"
To find out, Levy is interested in how advanced imaging tools, such as computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging, could be leveraged to better diagnose and treat concussions.
"Can we design better imaging tools to assess concussions and to help clinicians decide when it's safe for patients to get back to playing again?" Levy asks. "Also, can we use imaging to help us understand the nature of concussion, why, for example, some concussion injuries are so mild while other injuries that seem similar can be downright devastating. We are hoping to use imaging techniques to determine this difference."
Since its inception in November, PUCCS has seen what Levy calls "overwhelming support," raising more than $100,000 from charitable events, such as hockey tournaments, including some endorsed by USA Hockey. He notes that 100 percent of charitable contributions to PUCCS will go toward research and education pertaining to concussion injuries in youth.
More information for parents, coaches and athletes on how to prevent, identify and treat concussions is at http://puccs.org