Harvard launches ResearchKit study to track and compare health of former NFL players, general public

By Aditi Pai
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Harvard University has partnered with Sage Bionetworks to launch TeamStudy, a ResearchKit app that aims to gather data from former NFL players as well as the general public to study and better understand the impact playing football has on professional athletes.

The ResearchKit app launch is a part of Harvard’s Football Players Health Study, which is a series of research initiatives the university launched in 2014 to learn about the health of football players over the course of their lives. The research is funded by the NFL Players Association.

TeamStudy researchers worked with NFL players to focus on health issues that are most relevant to them, including memory, balance, heart health, pain and mobility.

“As a former linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys for seven years, I can tell you that knowledge is key to progress,” Dat Nguyen said. “When we leave the game, there is not enough information available for us to understand our state of health. For years, we've asked ourselves these questions: 'Should my joints have this much pain? Is my memory normal?  Should I be concerned about my heart health?’ TeamStudy will allow the Harvard researchers to answer these questions and share the facts with all of us.”

The app will also collect data from the general public, including athletes and non-athletes to create a control group. These participants will be able to contribute questions to the study and receive statistics as well as other findings from the study.

“By bringing the Football Players Health study to this app, we’re able to easily capture data from participants all over the nation, enabling us to better understand the everyday experiences of former NFL players,” TeamStudy principal investigator Alvaro Pascual-Leone said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time the NFL has funded a digital health project. Last year, the NFL and GE awarded concussion assessment company BrainScope $500,000. Brainscope has developed mobile, non-invasive devices that help medical professionals assess Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

And earlier this year, days before retiring from the NFL, Peyton Manning spoke at HIMSS, telling attendees that players have increasingly started wearing fitness trackers to practice to monitor their steps. “Analytics has played a huge role, from a concussion standpoint to an overall health standpoint,” he added.