Summit Explores “Unanswered Questions” in Female Concussion Research

Posted in GUMC Stories

MARCH 1, 2016–The long-term harms of concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) suffered by football players and military members have dominated conversations and media headlines for years.

But as sports organizations, the military and neuroscientists begin to form collaborative relationships, the conversation around who suffers head injuries and how is dramatically changing.

An emerging observation is that male and female head injuries appear very differently – in symptoms, treatment and recovery. Exploring those gender differences was the subject of the International Summit on Female Concussion and TBI, a recent two-day summit hosted by Georgetown University Medical Center.

First Scientific Summit on Gender Differences in Brain Injuries

More than a hundred neuroscientists, physicians, students, TBI patients and others attended the summit, the first scientific conference on gender differences in brain injuries, held at the Intercultural Center auditorium on the Georgetown campus. Its sponsor, Pink Concussions, is the first organization to focus solely on female concussions in sports, abuse, accidents and military service.

“We have individuals here because you care deeply about this,” said Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD , dean for medical education at Georgetown’s medical school, in his welcoming remarks, adding that he too was concerned, as a pediatrician, a parent and a former athlete.

Georgetown’s David Milzman, MD , associate dean and professor of emergency medicine, acted as the scientific director for the meeting, and neuroscientist Mark Burns, PhD , served as a key member of the organizing committee.

“The quality and breadth of the research presented in this meeting was outstanding,” Burns said. “It has helped us clearly define what we know, and maybe more importantly, it has helped us identify knowledge gaps where we can focus future research.”

Staying in the Game

“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” about female concussions, said the summit’s keynote presenter Major General Margaret C. Wilmoth, PhD, MSS, RN, FAAN .  

Dispelling a common myth about head injuries in the military, Wilmoth, the U.S. Army’s deputy surgeon general, explained that most are not combat related but rather happen at home in training mishaps, car accidents and other activities. But she acknowledged the pressing need for a greater understanding of gender differences in head injuries as the military opens its combat ranks to women.

“The conversations that you’re having here today, and sharing your research, will really help get us toward understanding gender specific clinical and safety practices, and help protect our young athletes as well as our servicemen and women, and help keep them in the game,” said Wilmoth.

Keeping Score

In his keynote address, Brian Hainline, MD , NCAA chief medical officer and neurologist, also corrected the score on concussion myths in college sports. He explained that concussions are most prevalent in wrestling, not football, followed by men and women’s ice hockey.

Hainline added an important statistic – a third of the subjects involved in the NCAA concussion research program this past year are women, he said. “We have more data now on female concussion than anyone,” he said, noting that the NCAA would begin rolling out the information it has collected in the spring.

Karen Teber
GUMC Communication