To help us understand CTE, Harvard developed TeamStudy for ex-NFL players

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The sports world is known for its acronyms, but CTE is one abbreviation that sports players, coaches, and fans alike dread hearing. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease, has become nearly synonymous with the NFL these last several months. And now scientists from Harvard have developed an app to show ex-NFL players just how much of an effect their careers have had on their health. It’s called TeamStudy, and medical researchers hope that the platform may help us better understand what makes these athletes tick.

Built using ResearchKit, Apple’s open source software framework, TeamStudy is the product of teamwork between medical experts and former NFL players. Together, the two groups created an app that focuses “on health issues that matter most to them, such as memory, balance, heart health, pain and mobility.” For about 20 minutes each week, players interact with the app, entering data including their pain tolerance, mobility, and memory. And if you’re not a former pro-baller but want to participate as well, the Harvard team welcomes your input — everyone is welcome to download the app for free and receive results and statistics on study findings.

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“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,” said Alvaro Pascual-Leone, the principal investigator of TeamStudy. “Traditionally, we study participants in one location, failing to capture their real-life, day-to-day experience — for example, understanding things like pain and daily activity.” But thanks to this new app, he says,  “We will be able to quickly identify patterns that could lead to treatments for health conditions faced by former NFL players.”

And it’s not just scientists who are excited about the implications of this app. Former Texas A&M Aggie and Dallas Cowboy linebacker Dat Nguyen was heavily involved in the app’s development, and notes, “As a former linebacker with the Dallas Cowboys for seven years, I can tell you that knowledge is key to progress. When we leave the game, there is not enough information available for us to understand our state of health.” Reflecting upon years of questions, including “‘Should my joints have this much pain? Is my memory normal? Should I be concerned about my heart health?'” Nguyen says he’s eager to see how the Harvard researchers will ultimately “answer these questions and share the facts with all of us.”

As CTE continues to cause concern for football players past, present, and future, the general consensus on the matter is that knowledge is power. “This app will allow the Harvard team to take its work to another level — reaching perhaps thousands more former players and extending even further to fans, friends, spouses and other communities,” said Mark Herzlich, a linebacker for the New York Giants. “Across the board, we’re seeing more mainstream interest in supporting player health. TeamStudy will allow everyone’s voice to be heard as app users perform simple activities and answer basic health questions.”

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