Researchers Develop AI Tool That Can Detect Brain Damage In Contact Sport Players

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Researchers from NYU have developed an AI tool that can detect brain changes resulting from repetitive head injuries. Unlike traditional medical imaging, this tool can identify injuries that may be overlooked. By utilizing this technology, scientists can better understand how subtle brain injuries impact cognition over a prolonged period.

Concussions are a risk to contact sports players

While it has long been recognized that concussions pose risks to athletes engaged in contact sports like football, emerging evidence suggests that even seemingly mild repeated head impacts can lead to cognitive decline. Although advanced MRI scans can detect minute structural changes caused by head trauma, analyzing the extensive data they generate can be challenging.

The study examined brain images from 81 male college athletes, 45 non-contact sports athletes (primarily baseball players and runners), and 36 contact sports players (primarily football). The research revealed that contact sport athletes displayed minor structural changes in their brains due to repeated head impacts, despite not being diagnosed with concussions.

According to Yvonne Lui, MD, a neuroradiologist, there are significant variations in brain structure between athletes involved in contact sports and those participating in non-contact sports. The study’s findings imply that selecting one type of sport over another may carry potential risks. Lui, who is a professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Radiology at NYU Langone Health, emphasizes the unexpected differences discovered in the brains of these athlete groups.

The new program can predict exposure to head impacts

The researchers developed a program that could predict exposure to repeated head impacts. They used statistical techniques and mathematical models to train the program with data examples. As more data was inputted, the program improved its predictions. The program could also detect unusual features in brain tissue and distinguish between athletes with and without repeated head injuries based on these features.

Two metrics, mean diffusivity and mean kurtosis, were found to be highly accurate in identifying brain structural differences. The program has the potential to revolutionize sports medicine by preventing long-term cognitive issues in athletes from various sports.

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