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canadian sports concussion project

Hockey helmets are see in this file photo.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The science of diagnosing and treating concussions is getting a million-dollar boost, one of the largest single donations to such research in Canada.

Mitchell Goldhar, owner of shopping plaza developer SmartCentres, is giving the money to the Canadian Sports Concussion Project at Toronto Western Hospital. The donation will finance a wide array of new studies, said neurosurgeon Charles Tator, who is leading the project.

Among other things, the team is trying to develop a method of identifying concussions using imaging technology – such as MRIs and MEGs. Such an advance would be crucial, since the current method of diagnosis depends on the co-operation of the injured athlete, who might thwart the process in order to get back to playing.

The project is also working on ways to assess the progress of people recovering from concussions and on an imaging test for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease caused by head injuries. The only way to diagnose CTE at the moment is via post-mortem examination.

"I regard this donation as a real public health service to the people of Canada," Tator said Friday.

The donation comes at a crucial time for concussion research. The field had long been neglected, Tator said, ignored by athletes or treated as minor injuries. But public awareness of the problem in Canada spiked when Sidney Crosby, the brightest star in professional hockey, was sidelined for the better part of two seasons with concussions.

And it's not only elite players who will benefit from a better understanding of concussions: recreational athletes, including children, face many of the same risks in playing contact sports.

"It affects so many active Canadians. The work of the project will serve so many people," said Goldhar, an avid hockey fan. "I would like Canadians to have a strong centre of concussion research and treatment."

Goldhar and his company have long supported head-injury prevention projects, installing billboards encouraging people to wear helmets.

A team of 15 scientists, ranging from neurosurgeons to neurologists to neuropyschologists, are working on the concussion project. They are host of a conference at the hospital next month.