Student-Athlete
Health & Well-Being
Initiative

Projects funded by Pac-12 Student-Athlete Health Grant Program announce early findings

SAN FRANCISCO-- The Pac-12 announced today that research projects funded by the Conference’s Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative are already producing useful results. As part of the initiative, the Pac-12 annually funds millions of dollars in research that is conducted on its campuses. Projects on cardiovascular screening, mental health, injury surveillance, overuse injuries, thermal management, coach health education, and more are all in progress from past funding cycles.

Created in 2013, the Pac-12 Grant Program is part of the overall Pac-12 Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative. The initiative is a collective effort between Pac-12 member universities to find ways to reduce injuries, share current best practices and latest studies, and conduct research to uncover new ways to keep student-athletes as safe as possible. The Grant Program has made it a priority to fund cutting-edge research by pooling the collective expertise of its membership, which comprises some of the foremost research institutions in the world.

“The research being conducted through the Pac-12’s Grant Program has the potential to greatly benefit current and future student-athletes,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “These early findings are indicative of the power our universities have to change the student-athlete experience for the better and enable the medical community at large to better diagnose, treat, and prevent things like sudden cardiac death, head trauma, heat stroke, and more.”

In the spring of 2017, doctors and athletic trainers from around the conference met at the annual Pac-12 Student-Athlete Health Conference and updated each other on the research projects taking place on their campuses and being funded by the Pac-12 Grant Program.

Listed below are projects currently taking place as part of the Grant Program (with the lead university noted), as well as updates on the projects’ status and early findings.

1. Cardiovascular Screening in the Pac-12 Conference: Establishing Best Practices (Washington)

This study is in the process of collecting data on cardiovascular conditions detected and diagnosed via two different cardiovascular screening strategies, and is on track to have all of its data collected by September 1, 2018 at which time data analysis will commence. To date, over 6,000 records have been uploaded to a secure database. 

Current cardiovascular screening recommendations endorsed by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recommend screening with a 14-point history and physical examination.  The ability of this strategy to actually detect conditions that may lead to sudden cardiac arrest has been questioned.  The European Society of Cardiology, the International Olympic Committee, as well as the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL recommend the addition of a 12-lead ECG.  This study will thoroughly examine the both screening strategies, including analysis of cost per diagnosis and the ability of local sites to interpret screenings correctly.  

2. Mental Health and Head Trauma: Brain Health in Male and Female Basketball Student-Athletes at the University of Utah (Utah)

The relationship between head impacts, including concussion, and functional outcome in athletes is not fully understood. This three-year longitudinal study is in the process of following student-athletes from Utah’s women’s basketball team, men’s basketball team, and football team, as well as a control group of non-athlete students. Preliminary analyses indicate significant differences in brain connectivity for each student-athlete group. Further, data suggest that the relationship between brain connectivity and behavioral measures was also different by group, suggesting distinctive brain patterns by sex and by sport. Results from this study will help identify functional areas and points in time that are ideal for intervention to aid in the development of specialized health and wellness programming for student-athletes. 

The study is unique in that it is applying three different types of imaging to measure potential brain changes in student-athletes with and without head impacts. In later stages, this study will examine whether clinical or imaging changes between pre- and post-season occur in student-athletes, and whether neuroimaging measurements or clinical measures predict reduced function or changes in well being associated with concussive history. 

3. Health and Wellness: Assessing Student-Athlete Health and Performance (Colorado)

Among the goals of this study is to observe sleep patterns in student-athletes as well as possible sleep problems and mood disturbances related to sleep. Measures of sleep and mood disturbance were collected in female volleyball student-athletes during the competition season. Preliminary findings from the study’s initial project period show evidence of sleep disturbance in those student-athletes particularly during, and immediately after, traveling for competition.

Another part of the study has also found that ferritin (a blood cell protein that contains iron) levels tend to be significantly lower in aerobically trained athletes when compared to contact sport athletes. However, this does not appear to impact hemoglobin concentration or hematocrit, as these parameters are similar between the groups. As a result, there may be justification for different reference ranges of hematological parameters in student-athletes compared to the general population.

4. Injury Surveillance: How Much is Enough? Enhancing the Precision of Team Injury Estimates Using Detailed Athlete Exposure Information (Oregon State)

The Pac-12’s Sports Injury Registry Management and Analytics Program (SIRMAP) is a powerful and innovative injury surveillance program that tracks injuries across member institutions in order to identify factors that contribute to injury risk and develop and test strategies to make intercollegiate athletics safer. This study has identified that capturing detailed information about student-athlete participation is necessary in order to interpret the injury data captured by SIRMAP correctly. The researchers on this project have also developed a new app that can be used by sports medicine personnel to minimize the time and cost associated with capturing the detailed participation information. By combining this new technology with SIRMAP, the Pac-12 will have the most precise large-scale injury surveillance program in all of intercollegiate athletics, which will allow physicians and athletic trainers from around the conference to make evidence-based decisions that will improve student-athlete health.

5. Overuse Injuries/Injury Prevention: A Prospective Study to Improve Bone Health and Reduce Incidence of Bone Stress Injuries in Pac-12 Female Distance Runners (Stanford and UCLA)

The primary objectives of this project were to improve the health of female collegiate distance runners, reduce the incidence and severity of bone stress injuries, and shorten recovery time. Preliminary results suggest almost 40 percent of female runners were achieving less than the recommended 45 kcals/kg fat free mass/day prior to starting the intervention. The intervention focused on an active nutrition education program emphasizing the achievement of positive energy balance as measured by increasing energy intake or reducing exercise energy expenditure. This will result in female runners understanding how to balance their diet and exercise regimen to achieve the recommended caloric intake.

A secondary aim of the study is to pilot the Female Athlete Triad Coalition’s cumulative risk assessment score. Researchers found that in collegiate distance runners with bone stress injuries, higher risk scores were associated with a significant delay in return to play. In fact, each one-point increase in cumulative risk score increased return to play time by 17 percent.

6. Thermal Management for Athletes: Problems and Opportunities (Stanford)

The work of these researchers is focused on the development and implementation of a technology that can rapidly extract heat from the body (in the case of heat stress, heat illness, or heat stroke), and is small, portable, and easily applied.  The researchers have previously discovered that the major heat loss avenues of the human body are from the glabrous (non-hairy) skin, such as the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and the face.  Under these skin surfaces special blood vessels allow the flow of large volumes of blood delivering heat from the body core to those surfaces.  The new technology being developed amplifies that flow with a slight vacuum and uses a controlled heat sink to remove the heat from the skin and has been successful in rapidly getting a hyperthermic athlete out of the danger zone. 

The next step of this project is to quantify the efficacy of this treatment in comparison to other commonly used methods of cooling. Experiments this past year show that palmar cooling is significantly more efficacious than the common practice of applying iced towels to the neck and the upper torso.

Another goal of this project is to demonstrate the benefit of body heat extraction in the physical conditioning of female athletes.  Previous work has shown that rates of gain in both work volume and strength are significantly increased by heat extraction between sets of exercises in males.  One question that has arisen is whether or not the higher androgenic steroid levels in males enable these improvements in conditioning. With two small trials of female athletes completed, results are showing that in females, as in males, the rates of improvements are significantly — usually about two times – higher with cooling than without.  

A third goal of the research is to document the thermal stresses during practice, and possibly competition, as a function of ambient conditions and activities.  In addition, the work aims to explore the benefits of intermittent heat extraction as well as performance under those conditions.  Due to the current unavailability of a new generation of thermal telemeters needed for this work, testing has not yet begun but is on track to do so later this summer.

7. Pac-12 Student-Athlete Project on Developing Coach Education (Washington)

This project’s aim is to work with college coaches to develop concussion education materials that meet their learning needs and preferences, and ultimately keep student-athletes safer and healthier.

Researchers have conducted in-depth interviews with coaches of contact sports at two Pac-12 schools about how they view their role in student-athlete health and safety generally, and related to concussion in particular. All coaches expressed care for their student-athletes’ health; however, interviews indicated a gap in coaches’ awareness of the power they have to influence their teams’ culture through their informal interactions with student-athletes and medical personnel. These emergent findings are informing program development. Coaches have been providing feedback about website content and structure in an iterative process that will continue for the next several months before finalizing the prototype for pilot testing. The final product will result in an educational program that already has coaches’ buy-in as well as pilot data about acceptability and efficacy.

The request for proposal for 2018 funding cycle of the Grant Program is now open and can be found at pac-12.com/conference/sahwbgp. Letters of Intent for the 2018 cycle are due Sept. 15, 2017. Questions may be sent to sahcrfp@pac-12.org and more information on the Pac-12’s Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative can be found at pac-12.com/conference/sahwbgp.

About the Pac-12 Conference
The Conference has a tradition as the “Conference of Champions,” leading the nation in NCAA Championships in 51 of the last 57 years, with 501 NCAA team titles overall. The Conference comprises 12 leading U.S. universities: The University of Arizona, Arizona State University, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Colorado, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Stanford University, the University of Southern California, the University of Utah, the University of Washington and Washington State University.  For more information on the Conference’s programs, member institutions, and Commissioner Larry Scott, go to www.pac-12.com/conference.

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