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Editorial: Support UNM brain study

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The University of New Mexico’s Brain Safe Project is making waves in the student athlete community. The relatively new study already has assembled the world’s largest database of student athletes and their concussions.

So far, 253 UNM athletes have received initial and, in some cases, follow up brain scans. Sports the athletes participate in include football, volleyball, soccer, baseball and basketball, diving and cheerleading.

The project has several objectives: determine the long-term effects of brain injuries athletes suffer during contact sports by comparing MRI scans over time; minimize the impact of concussions; and promote athletes’ safety. The consequences of concussions can be serious: headaches, substance abuse, depression, even death.

Brain Safe was launched last fall. Since then 11 participating UNM student athletes have had concussions, says Dr. Kent Kiehl, the project’s founder and director.

About 56 percent of the 253 tested showed “incidental findings” in baseline screenings, which is two or three times the norm. About one in four of those athletes were linked to previous injuries they knew about and, according to Kiehl, they “are still cognitively intact … and are functionally well.”

All those MRIs don’t come cheaply. UNM regents last week approved a measure to ask the Legislature for $1.5 million to cover half of their cost for three years. The Mind Research Network, a nonprofit brain research institute headed by Kiehl, has funded the project so far and plans to cover the other half through fundraising.

This research is worthy of support, not only for the benefit of New Mexico’s student athletes but also for those who play sports nationwide.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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