Dr. Russell L. Lonser is one of the nation’s leading neurosurgeons. With the current brain injury controversy in football, this also makes Lonser one of the biggest experts on head injuries in the game.
Because of his special position in both the treatment and research on brain injury, Lonser has also been the leader of some highly important brain injury studies of the last few years. He is most known for being the doctor chosen to oversee the study of Junior Seau’s brain after his tragic suicide last year.
None of his previous projects can compare to his next undertaking. With the help of Ohio State University, Lonser is on the eve of conducting one of the most comprehensive studies of brain injury over time yet. He hopes to begin a long-term study that would follow selected football players and other subjects from their time on campus to much later in their lives.
According to the Toledo Blade, there are still many details to iron out, and there have already been detractors. Dr. Christopher Kaeding, head team physician for the school’s athletics department and executive director of OSU Sports Medicine, for example, was quoted saying, “What’s he best way to treat concussions? […] 100 players at Toledo, Bowling Green, or Ohio State are not going to find that answer. It’s going to have to be thousands of athletes followed over many years.”
While Kaeding is correct in some ways, he also seems to misunderstand the point of the study. Lonser and his team are hoping to collect a huge amount of in depth data that would be shared with other universities and researchers. The study doesn’t aim to find one magic cure for TBI or anything of the sort, but instead is hoping to contribute some of the only truly long-term data on brain injury to the ever expanding data already available.
Kaeding also seems to not understand some of the constraints researchers have learned to deal with due to budgetary and logistical situations. Almost every brain injury researcher in the world wishes they could do a comprehensive study of thousands of patients from the moment of injury to late in their lives, but recruiting participants for studies usually includes a strict vetting process which removes a large number of the available pool, and participants are normally compensated limiting the number of possible subjects to the amount of resources the university can allocate to the study.
Grants help the situation, but applying for a grant is a difficult process, and winning some research money is by no means a full solution to the lack of resources scientists are working with.
These situations hamper and help the scientific communities in many ways, but it doesn’t invalidate the smaller studies. The limited resources force researchers to narrow down the focuses of their studies which enables us to isolate biological functions occuring in the body and aspects for investigation. While Lonser’s long-term study of brain injury may not find the best treatment for TBI, it will only add to the information available for analysts to one day fully understand brain injury.