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Published: Monday, 12/27/2010

NFL grant goes to UT for study of bacterium

The University of Toledo will do some blocking and tackling for National Football League team owners, but the results won't show up on a stadium scoreboard or a sports statistics sheet.

UT was one of 16 research facilities and organizations to receive a sports-medicine grant from NFL Charities this year for research that could help protect athletes, young and old.

The charitable foundation, funded by NFL team owners, awarded UT a grant to study how long a certain nasty bacterium might live in artificial turf systems, the kind that use recycled material to mimic natural grass and soft dirt cushions beneath.

Universities and several area high schools have invested big money lately on installing the cutting-edge turf systems.

UT associate professor Von Sigler, an environmental biologist and the lead researcher, said the bacterium, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, causes about 19,000 deaths and 300,000 debilitating infections in the nation each year.

Artificial-turf fields present a potential risk of infection among football players and other participants in contact sports, he said in a written release. The fields can promote the spread of the bacterium because football players are on the ground a lot, and "strawberries," or abrasions, from contact with turf can increase the risk of an infection, he said.

"A better understanding of the ecology of MRSA in the field is key for managing the infectious risk to players and determining proper field-maintenance procedures," he said.

A number of research studies have focused on identifying risk factors for the infections, but few have explored the potential role of artificial surfaces shared by every football player, he said.

MRSA is a particularly worrisome strain because it has developed resistance to penicillinlike antibiotics. The strain also has become a common cause nationwide of skin infections requiring emergency-room attention, according to statistics.

UT officials could not provide the exact amount of the grant but said it's one of several out of a pool of $1.6 million awarded this year.

About $1 million of that total will pay for research at other research facilities on concussions, increasingly in the news as retired players deal with the long-term effects of their football careers and recently retired players anecdotally link hard hits with forgetfulness and other cognitive problems later in life.

The projects include studying the relationship between football and dementia later in life, concussions among middle-school players, and examining the influence of genetics in cases of repeated concussions.

Grants also were awarded to Johns Hopkins and Cornell universities, the Cleveland Clinic, and the University of California Los Angeles Brain Injury Research Center.

"We are proud to support sports-related medical-research proposals through NFL Charities Medical Research Grants," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, president of the NFL Charities Board, said in a written statement. "These grants will help to address risk factors for football players and all athletes, and make the game safer."

Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at: ckirkpatrick@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.

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