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Health, Science & Tech

House Committee Members To Host Concussion Talks With Experts

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee will begin its first of several discussions on concussions in Washington D.C.

The roundtable discussions will include experts in various fields, with the goal of learning more about concussions and how to better treat and prevent them in the future.

The first discussion will be introductory, providing a basis of information for committee members on concussions, including: brain function and biology, how concussions occur, the different types of concussions, medical problems that result from them and how it affects people behaviorally.

“It’s going to be complex. It’s going to require a lot of work, but for the tens of millions of Americans who are affected by -- whether it’s head injury or the future of things to come -- with mental illness or with aging, it’s exciting to get some answers to this,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pennsylvania), who serves as the oversight and investigations subcommittee chairman.

Attendees include members of the National Institute of Health, the NFL and NCAA, as well as Pittsburgh-area Dr. Micky Collins. Collins is a neuropsychologist with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

Last month, Murphy invited Dr. Bennet Omalu to give a presentation on concussions for committee members and staff. Omalu is known for discovering chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE, after performing an autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster’s brain. The work is the subject of the recent movie Concussion, starring Will Smith. Omalu’s research found that repeated blows to the head have a damaging effect on the brain.

Murphy said Omalu’s discovery sparked further discussion and research to determine the exact causes of CTE and what needs to change.

“Falling off a ladder, tripping over a curb, hitting your head, being in an accident, all of those are causes. And for the longest time, we have not understood what these were. In fact, we thought once you stood up and shook it off, you were fine,” said Murphy.

Concussion research also plays a role in the military. According to Murphy, about 85 percent of injuries to U.S. soldiers are not combat related, but are due to training near explosions or automobile and motorcycle accidents. Murphy said there is a new emerging belief that blast waves from explosions could have a similar effect as concussion. He said symptoms first diagnosed as signs of PTSD could, in fact, be concussion-related.

Murphy said more hearings are planned on what direction the committee will take, after the conclusion of the first meeting. He said that, since the committee handles manufacturing and commerce, its next focus could be to look into helmet or hard hat design.

“Whether you’re a race car driver, or a football player, or an iron worker on a steel beam, what else do we need to do to help protect you in the workplace, to get the right equipment to reduce the risk of concussion? And what do we need to know in the field of health to help people recover and get treatment from that,” Murphy said.

Murphy also said the old methods of treating concussions aren’t relevant anymore.

“Sniffing some smelling salts and coming back into the game, or being in a dark room and just resting up for a few days, those treatments are not the right thing to do anymore,” he said. “There are specific treatments and activities a person should engage in while monitoring their recovery from concussion and we need to make some determinations of how do we support that on the federal level.”

The first hearing was originally scheduled for Jan. 25, but has been postponed due to the East Coast snow storm.