AUSTIN (KXAN) The Darrell K Royal Research Fund has launched the University of Texas Southwestern Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute’s College Level Aging Athlete Study, a study designed to advance medical science’s understanding of how participation in collegiate sports and resulting sports-related concussions may impact brain wellness later in life.

The new investigation at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the O’Donnell Brain Institute is seeking to recruit 500 individuals — 250 men and 250 women — over age 50 who played an NCAA or NAIA sport for at least one season in college to participate in the study.

“There is a lot of fear and misinformation in the public space about the relationship between athletics and brain wellness,” said Dr. C. Munro Cullum, co-principal investigator of CLEAATS.

A professor at UT Southwestern, Cullum is a clinical neuropsychologist who specializes in the assessment of cognitive disorders.

“Most previous studies focused on professional American football players, largely because they garner such a high level of public and media interest. However, we are expanding the sphere of study well beyond those limitations to broaden and deepen the pool of knowledge available to researchers and perhaps even remove some of the fears and misconceptions surrounding this subject.”

“It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of this study for generations of young athletes and the contributions its findings will make to the body of knowledge critical to understanding later-life outcomes of athletic participation for men and women alike,” said Dr. Margot Putukian, advisor to the principal investigators.

Putukian is the chief medical officer for Major League Soccer and the former director of athletic medicine, head team physician and assistant director of medical services at Princeton University.

The DKR Fund provided a $500,000 grant and multi-year commitment to UT Southwestern’s O’Donnell Brain Institute to conduct the landmark study, which will focus on athletes who played sports in college but did not go on to play professional sports. It will study participants in both contact and non-contact sports and will track a broader, more diverse pool of former athletes than any previous research effort.

Importantly, where previous studies of the link between sports participation and brain injuries have focused almost exclusively on males, CLEAATS will concentrate equally on potential effects on female athletes and will examine various aspects of brain health.

“The aim of CLEAATS is to broaden our field of knowledge by studying the impacts of sports on college athletes who never played sports professionally, male and female athletes and participants in a wide range of sports, including non-contact sports such as swimming, tennis, gymnastics, and track and field,” said Dr. Hunt Batjer, co-principal investigator of CLEAATS.

Batjer brings a unique perspective to the CLEAATS study as a former athlete having attended UT Austin on an athletic scholarship for baseball and was drafted out of high school by the Baltimore Orioles as a left-handed pitcher. Currently, Batjer is an emeritus professor at UT Southwestern and adjunct professor at The Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science and serves as treasurer on the board of directors for the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

“The results of this study will be an important part of the continuing legacy of Coach Royal and has the strong support of Edith Royal who, now well into her 90s, continues to be the driving force behind the DKR Research Fund,” he said. “No one has ever cared more deeply about the well-being of college athletes than coach and Mrs. Royal, so it is a fitting initiative for this organization to fund and stand behind.”

Participants will complete online surveys and a brief telephone interview about their history of athletic participation and current aspects of wellness, mood and cognition.

For more information on how to enroll in the study, you can click this link.