UCSB’s Professor Scott Grafton Wins Award from the Head Health Challenge


Joanne Rhee
Staff Writer

Scott Grafton, a psychological and brain sciences professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was named one of six finalists in the Head Health Challenge I. The Head Health Challenges are sponsored by General Electric and the National Football League to raise awareness about head health, stating that they, “have joined forces to advance the development of technologies that can detect early stage mild traumatic brain injuries and improve brain protection.”

There are three different challenges, each focusing on a different aspect of head injury. The first challenge had over 400 entries worldwide, with Grafton chosen as one of the six winners of the first challenge.

“Nine out of ten people seem to recover fully and do just fine after a concussion,” said Grafton. “One out of ten will have persistent cognitive problems, such as poor attention span, word finding difficulties, disorganized behavior, dizziness, headaches, mood changes, or forgetfulness. We are trying to see if MRI can identify specific abnormalities in those people with these cognitive problems.”

“I was quite pleased, as this is very competitive,” said Grafton, following his victory. “I am very proud of the team members who have contributed so much to this project, particularly the graduate students Matt Cieslak and Haraldur Hallgrimsson.”

Grafton’s work focused on developing methods to detect any signs of brain damage after a mild head injury, seeking to determine which areas in the brain had become disconnected. He says, “We examine all the connections in the brain. These are like wires in a computer that connect up different processing modules. The head impact can cause shearing or tearing of these connections.”

He collaborated with the Computer Science Department at UCSB at the Brain Imaging Center to further his research, and found it was possible to detect damage in the brain through MRI scanning and data analysis. With an MRI scan, they have the ability to see a loss of connections among various regions of the brain.

Grafton hopes to accomplish a lot in his research. “We want a software tool that can be used to identify abnormalities in the MRI scans,” he said. “The scans themselves are too complex to see any abnormality by eye. We need software to process this complex data.”

Each winner of the Head Health Challenge I also received an award of $800,000. Grafton plans to use this money towards tools that will help advance his research. “We will use [the money] to make our tools work on more operating systems, we will add more statistical tools, and we will test it on different types of MRI scanners with collaborators who have studied large numbers of patients,” said Grafton.

Other winners of the challenge include Banyan Biomarkers, Inc. San Diego, California; BrainScope Company, Inc. Bethesda, Maryland; Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Quanterix, Lexington, Massachsetts; and University of Montana, Missoula, Montana.