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Whitworth athletic training alumnus advances research on brain injuries

January 31, 2013

Howell (far right). Photo credit to University of Oregon News.
According to the study conducted by 2008 Whitworth alum David Howell at the University of Oregon, a person suffering from a concussion may have limited cognitive deficits for up to two months following the incident. Through his research, Howell questions the conventional recovery period for concussion. He provides evidence that the conventional period of seven to 10 days may not allow for a full recovery.

Howell says his interest in brain injuries began when he was an athletic training student at Whitworth. His coursework in anatomy and his experiences as an athletic trainer guided his interest toward sport-related injuries, specifically concussions. He traces his passion for this research directly to his time at Whitworth.

The Whitworth athletic training faculty and staff, specifically Mike Ediger, Russ Richardson, Melinda Larson, Todd Sandberg and Jon Bosh, were mentors to Howell during his undergraduate years. He says they instilled in him the desire to improve clinical outcomes in both athletic and community settings while he worked through problems in a logical, scientific manner.

“Balancing academic knowledge and clinical skills while completing my undergraduate degree has made me a better scientist, educator and athletic trainer through the combination of an excellent program design and fantastic mentors,” says Howell.

Howell is currently a graduate student in the department of human physiology at the University of Oregon. He performs research studies in a motion-analysis laboratory under the direction of professors Li-Shan Chou and Louis Osternig. Their research was recently highlighted in an article by the university.

Howell currently works alongside individuals who have sustained concussions. He tracks their recovery over a two-month period and collects data about the effects of concussions on cognitive processes and body movement control. He hopes to apply the research to identifying new, improved testing methods that may be applicable for physicians who diagnose, treat and manage concussions.

“The brain is so fascinating, and recently we have seen an increased awareness about brain injuries,” says Howell. “Hopefully, this means that our knowledge in this area continues to expand and that I will be able to study the pathophysiology of concussions and the specific mechanisms that allow the brain to recover.”

Through his research, Howell seeks a better understanding of the physiological mechanisms responsible for concussions and hopes to determine why such injuries occur so frequently and how they might be prevented in the future.

After completing graduate school, Howell plans to pursue either a post-doctoral fellowship or a faculty position at a university where he can continue his research on the brain. He hopes to help others to understand brain injuries and to create innovative assessments that can assist people who have suffered concussions.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.