Harvard Medical School has announced a $100 million grant from the National Football League Players Association to create a ten-year initiative that marshals the university's intellectual, scientific, and medical expertise to improve the health of NFL players.
The Harvard Integrated Program to Protect and Improve the Health of NFLPA Members will explore new ways to diagnose, treat, and prevent injuries and illnesses among active and retired football players, who often develop severe disabilities related to head trauma, heart problems, diabetes, joint and other skeletal injuries, and psychological stress. Experts from a range of fields — including epidemiology, genetics, metabolomics, lipidomics, cell biology, neurobiology, regenerative medicine, neuroscience, imaging, and computational biology — will identify a hundred healthy retired players and a hundred unhealthy ones to create a "biological profile of illness" through a series of tests and examinations. The effort will be critical to identifying new risk factors, devising tests that can detect early signs of problems in active players, exploring novel interventions to prevent them, and developing innovative therapies.
The initiative will immediately launch a number of clinical trials to test new interventions, including a method for re-growing anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, tissue; advanced imaging techniques to measure and assess heart function; and new approaches for directly treating concussion injuries. Through ongoing "listening tours," researchers will gain firsthand knowledge of players' lives and experiences, while members of the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School will help address ethical, legal, and policy issues relevant to players.
"Our goal is to transform the health of these athletes," said Lee Nadler, HMS dean for clinical and translational research and director of Harvard Catalyst, who will direct the program. "In order to extend the life expectancy and quality of life of NFLPA members, we must understand the entire athlete, all the associated health risks, and all of their interactions. We refer to this comprehensive approach as the 'Integrated NFL Player.' Harvard Catalyst will convene and connect investigators from all disciplines, in all departments, across all of Harvard's component schools and affiliated hospitals, to work as a single team."