For more than a century, the effort to make football safer has been focused on improving helmet technology, but helmets work to prevent skull fractures and can’t prevent brain injuries.

A new product being developed by a team that includes a Franklin College alumnus could end up being the answer.

Dr. Gregory Myer, a 1996 Franklin College graduate who played football for the Grizzlies, now serves as the director of research and the director of the human performance laboratory for the Division of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He thinks he and his team of researchers have helped find a breakthrough answer.

Myer spoke at his alma mater this week and told the story of how he was contacted by Dr. David Smith, the CEO of Xennovate Medical, who believed he had stumbled upon a breakthrough in brain injury research while studying woodpeckers, of all things.

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Skeptical at first, Myer listened as Smith explained that woodpeckers can prevent concussions by wrapping their long tongues around their jugular veins while making repetitive rapid-fire contact with wood. The pressure on the vein, Smith explained, increases the flow of blood to the brain.

That increase in fluid reduces the “slosh” effect inside the brain — a form of protection that cannot be replicated externally.

“The light went off in my brain and I said, ‘Well this makes sense,’ because there’s not going to be a way to protect it on the outside that we know of,” Myer said.

Myer has since been involved in researching what became known during development as the “Q Collar” and has since been trademarked as Neuroshield by PSG, the parent company for such sporting goods brands as Bauer and Easton.

He has served as the lead author on studies and helped steer recent clinical trials that were conducted in the Cincinnati area, first with youth hockey players and then with high school football and girls soccer teams.

The collar has also been tested on a SWAT team to determine whether it can aid in limiting damage from explosions, and Myer said that it could potentially be put in use by the United States military in the future.

He said he predicts potentially limitless uses for the collar — anyone traveling in a car or riding a bicycle, for instance, could wear one as a preventative measure.

“If this theory’s correct,” Myer said, “the implications are very widespread.”

So far, the studies indicate that the collar works — and while Myer said he believes it’s still a few years of additional research and development away from becoming adopted on a widespread level, he added he anticipates PSG will have a product available for sale within a year.

Despite his involvement in the studies thus far, Myer is not a stakeholder in PSG. His sole potential conflict is one he’s very up front about — that the funding for his studies has come from Q30, the company that has developed the collar idea and sold it to PSG.

Ideally, he said, he’d be able to get research funding from a government source, such as the National Institutes of Health or the Department of Defense.

“Then I don’t have any ties to the companies,” he said, “and that’s the best science. That’s what we all seek.”

In the end, Myer is hoping that his research work can help limit or even eliminate the brain injuries currently plaguing contact sports.

“Did I know it was right?” Myer said. “I certainly didn’t. Do I know it’s right right now? The evidence suggests that, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

The Myer file

Dr. Gregory Myer

Education: B.S. from Franklin College (1996); M.S. Ball State (1998); Ph.D. Rocky Mountain University (2010); post-doctorate, Ohio State University

Current job: Director of research/director of Human Performance Laboratory, Division of Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.