WASHINGTON, D.C. and CLEVELAND: As part of its continued efforts to prioritize the health and safety of its player members – past, present and future – the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) has teamed up with Cleveland Clinic on a joint initiative to use artificial intelligence to better characterize neurological disease. The goal is to improve diagnosis, prediction of disease progression and help guide treatments. The collaborative research aims to not only improve the brain health of former NFL players, but to enhance cognitive well-being among athletes in general and the larger community.
“Neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, have become public health emergencies as our population ages, and they also are of utmost importance to the NFLPA,” said the initiative’s principal investigator, Jay Alberts, Ph.D., of Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute and vice chair of Innovation for the Neurological Institute. “This collaborative research project will use machine learning techniques to address fundamental gaps in our understanding of disease processes and management. An ultimate goal of the initiative is for the created algorithms to support earlier diagnosis of neurological syndromes, enable better prediction of disease course and help guide interventions.”
The initiative will develop machine learning algorithms related to cognitive impairment, using long-term patient outcomes data. The NFLPA and Cleveland Clinic collaborators will develop Explainable Artificial Intelligence (XAI) models while using machine learning tools and sources of data, such as demographics, patient-entered data, imaging and labs. When applied along with disease progression modeling, long-term pathological trajectories can be revealed from short-term clinical data, resulting in the development of transformative advances in the area of cognitive health.
The NFLPA and Cleveland Clinic also seek to engage other partners in the medical and analytic space, creating a coordinated research network that will evaluate and conduct phased research projects. The request for proposals that result from this venture will be published for additional machine learning and analytical projects specific to the identification of and insight into neurological disease progression, as well as corresponding treatment patterns.
The use of XAI techniques and machine learning tools offers an opportunity to build models using patients who did not play professional football while still informing potential prevention and treatment programs for the benefit of the current and former player population. The models also are being built for clinical integration to support physician decision-making. Ultimately and importantly, these models will aid in the care and treatment of individuals in rural and underserved communities.
“This partnership with Cleveland Clinic is an exciting extension of our union’s ongoing commitment to advancing the physical and mental health of our player members,” said NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith. “As the physician community learns more about neurological disease through the resulting clinical decision-support tools, the better informed we will be in providing education and safety initiatives for professional football players.”