Dores Take Part in NFL Safety Initiative

Vandy one of eight schools collaborating in national study

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt is part of an expansion announced by the NFL of its collaboration with top research universities to collect data from on-field head impacts through novel mouthguard sensors. The goal is to inform injury reduction efforts at the professional and collegiate level, including through rules changes and the development of higher-performing equipment like position-specific helmets.

Vanderbilt is one of four new programs joining the study, along with Florida, Georgia and Pittsburgh. Alabama, Washington, Wisconsin and North Carolina were the original participants, and football student-athletes at all eight universities may voluntarily opt in to the program. So far, more than 250 players are participating.

“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 Dr. Douglas Terry, neuropsychologist and co-director of the Vanderbilt Sports Concussion Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “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.”

The mouthguards will provide substantial information about what happens to players’ heads during an impact. This data will inform efforts to understand and reduce concussions in football—and in head impacts more generally. Doubling the number of participating universities will substantially increase the amount of data collected and facilitate even higher-quality analysis.

The universities’ data will supplement data collection already underway at four NFL clubs. NFL engineers will incorporate the new information into their analysis of the frequency and severity of impacts in games and practices. This will help inform the league’s approach to injury reduction, including interventions involving rule changes, safety equipment, training techniques and player behavior.

The custom fit of the mouthguards that house the sensors is made possible in part by NFL partner Align Technology, a global medical device company that designs and manufactures the Invisalign system and iTero intraoral scanners. Dental professionals used iTero scanners, the same ones used to scan for and plan patients’ Invisalign clear aligner treatment, to scan study participants’ teeth for their personalized mouthguards.

Each participating NCAA program will receive a statistical analysis of their player impacts, which will help the programs refine their efforts to improve player health and safety.

Data collected across the mouthguard program are anonymized and analyzed by the NFL-NFLPA’s independent engineering experts at Biocore and the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Jennifer Langton, senior vice president of health and safety innovation at the NFL, oversees the program, which was launched in 2019. Each participating university’s Independent Review Board has reviewed and approved the terms of the study.