AUSTIN — With less than a month before student-athletes in Texas return to school, a growing statewide initiative will become a key player in the development of a better tracking mechanism for head injuries.
ConTex, an app developed by Austin-based Medical Innovation Labs, is what UT Southwestern is using with the University Interscholastic League to collect data on student-athletes across the state. It then goes into a registry.
“We’re very interested in how often concussions are occurring and it turns out, actually, nobody knows,” Dr. Munro Cullum, a neuropsychologist at UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute, said.
Cullum says this registry was initially started in North Texas with funding help from the Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair. Since it has expanded statewide, about one-third of Texas schools are participating in reporting concussions to ConTex. Schools will report the age of the player, date of injury, nature of the injury and whether there was a loss of consciousness.
“For junior high and high school athletes, there really isn’t any comprehensive database that gives us real ideas about how often they happen and the context that is in which they happen,” Dr. Jamey Harrison, deputy executive director of the UIL, said. “Are they happening in practice? Are they happening in games? Are they more prevalent in female athletes or male athletes or in this sport or that sport?”
From the North Texas registry, researchers have evaluated the data of about 1,200 cases.
“We’re seeing a little bit higher rates of female concussions, especially in soccer,” Cullum said. “It seems the female brain may be a little bit more easily concussed than the male brain. Whether that relates to neck musculature or other factors, we don’t yet know.”
Numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there were 640,000 traumatic brain injury-related emergency department visits in 2013. Cullum says those numbers are likely underestimates, since not all incidents make it to the emergency room.
The team behind ConTex is interested in expanding this project to multiple states, perhaps someday even nationwide.