Active Projects

The Football Players Health Study leads efforts to develop and support innovative research that has the potential to impact the health of current, former, and future NFL players. These initiatives include a first questionnaire for former players and other studies conducted by researchers across Harvard University and its affiliated hospitals to develop diagnostics, devices, and interventions.

Studies Open for Enrollment: Former NFL players can participate.

Studies Open for Enrollment

Health and Wellness Questionnaire
Summary: Our first questionnaire, which focuses on overall health and wellness, was made available to all former NFL players starting in early 2015 and is currently open. The goal of this questionnaire is to collect information on the total group, or cohort, of former professional NFL players to better understand the health impact of a professional football career. The questionnaire collects demographics, overall health assessment factors, physical function and ability, mental well-being, and medical history. To date, we have over 3,700 former players that have participated, making the Football Players Health Study the largest study ever of living former players. This questionnaire will continue to be available to former players, as the goal is to reach thousands of additional players, continue to collect data that will serve as a baseline for the Study, and create follow-up studies. Former NFL players can participate.
Brain Health Study
Summary The purpose of this research is to gain a better understanding of brain health in former professional football players. Through a series of online assessments that evaluate memory, attention, personality and temperament, this study collects data on individuals’ ability to think and process information. The study is currently open to former NFL players and offers personalized feedback following the completion of assessments. This research is in collaboration with TestMyBrain, a not-for-profit brain and mind initiative at Harvard Medical School. Along with the Football Players Health Study’s concurrent initiatives, this web-based assessment is intended to collect information that will improve our overall understanding of the health impact of undertaking a professional football career. Former NFL players can participate.
Personal Networks of Football Players: Association with Functional, Cardiac, and Cognitive Outcomes
Principal Investigators Amar Dhand, MD, DPhil, Brigham and Women's Hospital

Albert-László Barabási, PhD, Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science and a Distinguished University Professor, Northeastern University
Summary Retired NFL football players experience changes to their social life due to transitions away from a team environment, change of leisure activities, and need to re-define relationships with family and friends. The resulting personal networks affect physical health and the aging process. This targeted study aims to characterize the personal networks of former football players using a web-based survey, and look for links with cognitive, cardiac, and functional outcomes. Former NFL players can participate.

Brain Function

Kun Ping Lu, MD, PhD
Antibody Therapy for Treating Brain Injury and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
Principal Investigator: Kun Ping Lu, MD, PhD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Summary: Exposure to repetitive mild traumatic brain injury can lead to progressive neurodegeneration, notably chronic traumatic encephalopathy and Alzheimer’s disease, but there is currently no effective treatment. We have not only recently discovered a novel early driver of neurodegeneration after traumatic brain injury, cis p-tau, that mediates and spreads brain damage, but also developed a potent therapeutic agent, cis antibody, that effectively stops cis p-tau from causing brain damage, brain dysfunction, and even brain shrinkage after single severe traumatic brain injury. Here, we will evaluate preclinical efficacy of our cis antibody in stopping brain damage and preventing chronic traumatic encephalopathy and Alzheimer’s disease after repetitive mild traumatic brain injury, and, depending on the funding level, will additionally develop a humanized cis p-tau antibody that is needed for clinical trials on TBI patients.
Brain Health Study
Summary The purpose of this research is to gain a better understanding of brain health in former professional football players. Through a series of online assessments that evaluate memory, attention, personality and temperament, this study collects data on individuals’ ability to think and process information. The study is currently open to former NFL players and offers personalized feedback following the completion of assessments. This research is in collaboration with TestMyBrain, a not-for-profit brain and mind initiative at Harvard Medical School. Along with the Football Players Health Study’s concurrent initiatives, this web-based assessment is intended to collect information that will improve our overall understanding of the health impact of undertaking a professional football career. Former NFL players can participate.

Pain and Mobility

Martha Murray, MD
Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Repair – A Novel Treatment for ACL Injuries
Principal Investigator Martha Murray, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital
Summary: In 2013, NFL players suffered approximately 65 anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. Currently, the torn ACL cannot heal itself and needs, instead, to be reconstructed by a surgeon. Even with reconstruction, many athletes do not return to their prior level of performance, often ending their careers shortly after an ACL tear. Furthermore, the risk of osteoarthritis after an ACL tear, even with successful ACL reconstruction, is approximately 80 percent within 14 years. Murray, a Harvard researcher, has been working on an innovative solution that allows the torn ACL to heal itself by using a bridge or scaffold to hold blood products in between the two torn ends of the ACL long enough for surrounding cells to grow into and reunite the separated ends. In animal studies using Murray’s technique, not only does the ACL heal itself, but there is no resulting osteoarthritis. With support from the Football Players Health Study at Harvard, in addition to other funding, Dr. Murray has translated her technique from the laboratory and launched the first ever clinical trial with full approval from the Federal Drug Administration.
Jeffrey Karp, PhD
An Inflammation Responsive Hydrogel Depot for On-Demand Drug Delivery in Treatment of Posttraumatic Osteoarthritis (PTOA) in Football Players
Principal Investigators: Jeffrey Karp, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Joerg Ermann, MD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Summary: The proposed study aims to develop a disease modifying, self-titrating and intra-articular therapy for the treatment of post-traumatic osteoarthritis (PTOA). This will involve the development of inflammation responsive hydrogels, for delivery of disease modifying agents. Such an autonomous and biologically driven disease modifying therapy may significantly impact the health of former, current and future football players, and other athletes, who are at significant risk of developing joint degenerative PTOA.

Treating inflammatory arthritis with hydrogel
Conor Walsh, PhD
Protect-When-Needed (PWN) Knee Bracing Technology for Prevention of Knee Injuries in NFL Players using Soft Functional Materials
Principal Investigators: Conor Walsh, PhD, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

Ata Kiapour, PhD, Boston Children's Hospital, and Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering
Summary: The primary aim of this proposed work is to address a pressing unmet need in the NFL by demonstrating a new paradigm in protective wear. We propose to develop and evaluate Protect-When-Needed Knee Bracing Technology (PWN Bracing) that will provide adequate support to the knee joint, when required (high-risk events), without affecting normal performance levels and joint function during low-risk activities. This is based on our team’s deep expertise in soft functional materials and understanding of the mechanisms of injury and limitations of current technology in addressing these.
Goal-Directed Resilience Training to Mitigate Chronic Pain in Former Football Players
Principal Investigators Ross Zafonte, DO, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital

Herman Taylor, MD, MPH, FACC, FAHA, Morehouse School of Medicine
Summary Chronic pain, due to years of intense training and performance, threatens quality of life, and the culture of elite athletes is not well adapted to the chronic condition of pain. This targeted study will develop a remote assessment strategy to identify former players who may benefit from strategies to build skills that improve self-management and experience of chronic pain, and a skill building intervention to identify the potential benefits for those at high risk. Innovative strategies will be created that are both culturally acceptable and effective to help former football players overcome the physical pain that commonly results from years of intense training and performance. The study will be conducted out of the Atlanta area.

Personal Networks

Personal Networks of Football Players: Association with Functional, Cardiac, and Cognitive Outcomes
Principal Investigators Amar Dhand, MD, DPhil, Brigham and Women's Hospital

Albert-László Barabási, PhD, Robert Gray Dodge Professor of Network Science and a Distinguished University Professor, Northeastern University
Summary Retired NFL football players experience changes to their social life due to transitions away from a team environment, change of leisure activities, and need to re-define relationships with family and friends. The resulting personal networks affect physical health and the aging process. This targeted study aims to characterize the personal networks of former football players using a web-based survey, and look for links with cognitive, cardiac, and functional outcomes. Former NFL players can participate.

Sleep

Developing a Scalable Sleep Health Intervention to Improve Pain, Quality of Life, and Health in Football Players
Principal Investigators Suzanne Bertisch, MD, MPH, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Susan Redline, MD, MPH, Peter C. Farrell Professor of Sleep Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Summary Sleep plays a fundamental role in multiple aspects of health and wellness, including pain, mood, heart health, and quality of life. The primary aim of this study is to adapt a brief web-based, sleep health intervention for former NFL players, and to evaluate its impact on sleep health, and through this on pain and other health-related outcomes. This is a targeted population study – focusing on former football players with poor sleep and related medical conditions, including daily pain, mood problems, and cardiac disability. The long-term goal of this targeted study is to develop a program that will not only help improve sleep, but will also decrease pain and improve daily functioning and quality of life among players on a large scale.