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UNCW’s Lecci Advances Brain Injury Research Work

Mobile assessment tool will improve concussion care for minority athletes

UNCW Professor of Psychology Dr. Len Lecci has been awarded $149,224 from the Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research for the project “Using a Mobile Assessment Tool to Examine Concussion Recovery in Underserved Populations.”  

Athletes use a mobile assessment tool
Photo Courtesy: Dan Watson/The Signal

Over the next three years, in partnership with SportGait, researchers will use a mobile assessment tool to examine concussion recovery in underserved populations across the country. Properly assessing the consequences of concussion is critical to effective Return-to-Play (RTP) decisions in sports.  

“Understanding how these trajectories may vary by race and/or sex could significantly improve the accuracy of RTP decisions and the long-term health of youth athletes,” said Dr. Lecci. 

As the principal investigator, Dr. Lecci will facilitate recruitment of medical practices and concussion treatment centers to join the study and expand the research consortium based at UNCW. He will also direct research questions, data analysis and report the findings. 

The research will fund the purchase of numerous concussion assessment systems that will be deployed in medical offices and settings with a higher incidence of minority athletes and provide free testing services for those individuals. This will allow for the collection of data that will make the tests better at assessing and predicting recovery in underserved populations.  

“In short, the goal is to improve concussion care for those most in need of it.”

- Dr. Lecci 

SportGait provides a functional assessment, which can complement data available from other sources (blood markers, mouthguard data on hits, etc.) to show consequences and recovery rates relative to other indices of injury. Based at UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the medical technology manufacturer is an integral part of the grant, as their mobile assessment tool is the centerpiece of the research. 

Mobile assessment tool
Image Courtesy: Crosby Bugenhagen/SportGait Inc.

“The mobile assessment is critical because it allows for the delivery of the assessment to individuals who might not otherwise be able to obtain services,” said Dr. Lecci. “In terms of race, the study will provide standards of comparison that can improve health decision making for under-represented minority athletes. Such athletes make up a significant percentage of all athletes participating in sports, but they tend to be under-represented in the norms for many tests, which is the group whose scores we use to define typical performance.” 

The Chuck Noll Foundation for Brain Injury Research awards grants to advance research related to the diagnosis and treatment of injuries to the brain occurring primarily from sports activities. Established in 2016 through a grant from the Pittsburgh Steelers, the foundation honors former NFL player and Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, whose commitment to the well-being of his players led to the development and use of some of the earliest functional measures of concussion in professional sports. Additional funding is being provided by the TB12 Foundation.  

Dr. Lecci has taught at UNCW since 1996. He has received many teaching awards including the Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award, the Distinguished Teaching Professorship Award, the Board of Trustees’ Teaching Excellence Award and the Board of Governor’s Teaching Award. 

He has published two textbooks and more than 50 articles in a range of journals, and secured funding for his research from the National Science Foundation, Alzheimer’s North Carolina and the American Psychological Association, among others.