Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) is joining the National Football League (NFL) and a group of top research institutions to study on-field head impacts through the use of novel mouthguard sensors.
The data is meant to support injury reduction efforts in both college and professional football through rule changes and development of higher-performing equipment, including position-specific helmets.
The mouthguard sensor program launched in 2019 as part of the NFL's $60 million commitment under the Engineering Roadmap to promote health and safety initiatives.
"Having athletes wear mouthguards with sensors embedded into them will help us understand the specifics of head impacts and the force that may be transmitted to the brain," said Douglas Terry, PhD, neuropsychologist and co-director of the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center at VUMC.
"We'll be able to examine what players/positions get the most hits, the amount of force sustained, the direction of that force, and the types of plays that lead to these impacts," he said.
Four universities initially joined the program in 2021: the University of Alabama, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Washington, and University of Wisconsin.
VUMC is one of four new additions announced this week, along with the University of Florida, University of Georgia, and University of Pittsburgh.
"I'm thrilled to welcome the four new universities into this program, all of which - like the four founding universities - share our commitment to research in service of building a safer, better game," said NFL Senior Vice President of Health and Safety Innovation Jennifer Langton, who oversees the program.
"By collecting a larger amount of mouthguard data, we can further our efforts to reduce concussions while also accelerating our broader goal to reduce all head impacts at all levels of the sport," she said.
Football players at all eight universities may voluntarily opt-in to the novel program.
"We are excited about the opportunity to partner with the NFL to assist them in collecting more data to better understand on-field head impacts," said University of FloridaTeam Physician James Clugston, MD. "The research will continue to help make the game of football safer and will guide us to develop best practices for equipment design, rules of competition and practice drills."
Mouthguard sensor data will supplement identical data collection currently underway at four NFL clubs. NFL engineers are analyzing frequency and severity of impacts in games and practices to help inform the league's approach to injury reduction.
Each participating NCAA program will be provided a statistical analysis of player impacts specific to their team, which will help the program refine its own procedures to advance player health and safety.