Working across disciplines, Stanford researchers explore causes and treatments for concussions and how to prevent them

Stanford researchers are working together to better understand what causes concussions, how to diagnose and treat them and, perhaps most important, how to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Doctors, brain scientists and coaches alike used to think a concussion was no big deal – you get knocked out for a second, then you get it back together and keep on going with a game, a battle or just the rest of your day.

Not anymore. It’s now thought that even mild traumatic injuries can have potentially serious, lasting effects on the brain. Concern about those effects has led to changes in youth sports policies and campaigns aimed at raising awareness about the risks and symptoms associated with concussions and other brain injuries.

At the same time, teams of Stanford researchers in the Schools of Medicine, Engineering and Education and Stanford’s interdisciplinary life sciences institutes are working together to better understand what causes concussions, how to diagnose and treat them and, perhaps most important, how to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Concussion is correlated with damage to the corpus callosum.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Understanding brain injuries

At one level, concussions are just what happens when somebody gets hit in the head. But until the last few years, researchers knew very little about what kinds of hits actually cause traumatic brain injuries. As it turns out, it’s not simply a matter of getting hit really hard. To figure that out, Stanford doctors and engineers worked together to develop new techniques to accurately measure how the head moves when struck and understand the effects those movements had on the brain inside.

Concussion researchers study head motion in high school football hits

Three Bay Area high school football teams have been outfitted with mouthguards that measure head motion. Stanford scientists hope to use the data to better understand what causes concussions.

Stanford bioengineers improve upon football mouthguard that senses head impacts

A device developed by Stanford bioengineers could one day provide real-time measurements of the head impacts sustained by football players. The research could also help characterize the forces sustained in more common head traumas, such as car accidents and falls.

Most sensors designed to measure head impacts in sports produce inaccurate data, Stanford bioengineers find

As scientists zero in on the skull motions that can cause concussions, David Camarillo's lab has found that many commercially available sensors worn by athletes to gather this data are prone to significant error.

Stanford researchers measure impact of football concussions

Preventing concussions in football requires first knowing what types of hits cause them. Stanford scientists have developed technologies that will help unlock that mystery.

Stanford researchers measure concussion forces in greatest detail yet

Although the mechanisms of concussions are still being revealed, David Camarillo’s lab has measured the forces imparted on the brain in greater detail than ever before. The results could eventually lead to better injury detection and prevention.

Girls’ concussion symptoms may differ from boys’, physicians say

With a growing number of girls taking part in “incidental contact” sports like soccer and lacrosse, those girls are also at greater risk for concussion – and for them, concussion may not look the same as for boys.

Stanford senior a pioneer in traumatic brain injury research

Stanford biology student Theo Roth spent the past few summers developing an experiment for observing the brain’s cellular response to a concussion. The never-before-seen action could one day lead to therapies that mitigate brain damage following mild traumatic brain injuries.

Study reveals concussion’s complex nature

Concussion is a major public health problem, but not much is known about the impacts that cause concussion or how to prevent them. Bioengineer David Camarillo and colleagues suggest that the problem is more complicated than previously thought.

Head and neck positioning affects concussion risk

The way our head and neck are positioned during a head-on impact may significantly affect the risk of concussion – but tensed up neck muscles seem to offer far less protection.

Mechanical forces may underlie brain’s development and some diseases

The same tools that Ellen Kuhl once applied to studying concrete are now revealing mysteries in how the brain folds and functions. Part of a series on tiny answers to biology's biggest questions.

(Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Treatment and prevention

As researchers deepen their understanding of brain injuries, the next step is to devise new ways to quickly identify and treat concussion and related conditions. At the same time, researchers from the schools of Education, Engineering and Medicine are working on how to prevent those injuries from happening in the first place.

Rethinking concussion education for a new generation of athletes

Researchers and instructors at the Graduate School of Education teamed up with Stanford football players and others to rethink concussion education.

5 Questions: What families should know about concussions

Angela Lumba-Brown, MD, is the lead author of newly published CDC Guidelines on the Management of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury in Children. In a recent interview, she explained what families should know about concussions.

Eye-tracking tech monitors concussion recovery

Diagnosing and treating concussions is an inaccurate science at best. The Stanford Concussion and Brain Performance Center is hoping to bring clarity to this concussion conundrum.

Human stem cells transplanted in rat brain shown moving to damaged area

By illuminating the path taken by human neural stem cells as they were transplanted into the brains of rats and mice, medical school researchers have found the cells successfully navigate toward areas damaged by stroke.

Emergency physicians to test new treatment for traumatic brain injuries

Traumatic brain injuries are the leading cause of death in people aged 1 to 44. Stanford emergency medicine researchers planned to test the hormone progesterone as a possible treatment.

Packard Children’s surgeon helps teen recover from brain injury

After Spencer Morse lost control racing his motocross bike, the resulting crash left him with a serious traumatic brain injury. He was airlifted to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, where Stanford doctors put him back together.

One soldier’s struggle with the Iraq war’s trademark injury

Brett Miller was just 6 feet from the roadside bomb when it exploded amid a flash of light, a hail of dirt and splintering glass. A patient at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital, Miller talked to Stanford Medicine magazine about his experience.

Stanford research: Football helmet tests may not account for concussion-prone actions

Mounting evidence suggests that concussions in football are caused by the sudden rotation of the skull. David Camarillo's lab at Stanford has evidence that suggests current football helmet tests don't account for these movements.

Five trends shaping the future of sports

The 2015 Business Sports Innovation Conference at Stanford Graduate School of Business looked at the technologies and trends shaping the future of sports. One of those trends: growing concern about concussions.

Study of Stanford student-athletes provides new insights into injury impacts

By tracking athletes' health with electronic medical records, Stanford researchers deliver a more comprehensive picture of the lingering effects of certain injuries.

Stanford researchers show air bag bike helmets have promise

Drop tests from as high as two meters show air bag helmet may reduce impact by as much as six-fold compared to traditional bike helmets.  

(Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Tackling concussion on campus

Stanford researchers study head injuries through many lenses and with the support of a number of research centers and initiatives. But the university – and its faculty, staff and students – are also tackling concussion and traumatic brain injury head-on through programs aimed at improving safety on campus.

Concussions – an issue for male and female athletes alike, Stanford professor says

William Maloney, professor of orthopaedic surgery, told the Faculty Senate on Thursday that while concussions are a problem in football, they also are a big concern in other sports, including soccer, water polo and club sports, involving both male and female players. University Architect David Lenox gave a report on new buildings on campus and those under construction.

Researchers awarded $12 million to study traumatic brain injury

The Department of Defense-funded consortium led by Jamshid Ghajar, founded in 2014, works to establish rigorous, evidence-based diagnosis and treatment guidelines for brain trauma.

Law School affiliates can check out bikes and books at the library

Students, faculty and staff of the Law School can check out bikes – and bike helmets – at the Robert Crown Law Library at Stanford Law School.

Women’s swim team makes a bike helmet commitment

After a teammate crashed while riding her bike in 2014, the women’s swim team committed to wearing helmets to protect their heads, and their coach encouraged other teams to follow suit.

Stanford freshmen to receive free bike helmets

In an effort to increase safe bicycling practices among Stanford students, the university will distribute free helmets to nearly 1,800 freshmen in the fall of 2016, thanks to a donation from two Stanford parents.

New center looks to define concussion

The Stanford Concussion and Brain Performance Center was established last year to define objective criteria for diagnosing concussions, and to treat adults and children based on the physical response of the brain.

Taube gift to launch youth addiction, children’s concussion initiatives

Two gifts totaling $14.5 million from Tad and Dianne Taube will fund Stanford efforts to understand, treat and prevent concussion and addiction in children and teens.

Stanford senior named a 2018 Rhodes Scholar

Michael Zhu Chen was inspired to do something about brain trauma after witnessing a bicycle accident on campus.