Research News

From UW Athletic Training program to Ph.D., Stamm finds success

March 25, 2015

UW-Madison alumna Julie Stamm is the lead author of a recent study out of the Boston University School of Medicine that points to a possible increased risk of cognitive impairment from playing youth football.

Stamm conducted this research as part of a team at Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, and later this spring she will be receiving her Ph.D. in anatomy and neurobiology. The native of Mosinee, Wisconsin, earned her undergraduate degree from UW-Madison’s Athletic Training program, which is housed in the Department of Kinesiology, in 2009.

Julie Stamm
“The UW-Madison Athletic Training program was essential in putting me on a path that led me to where I am today,” says Stamm. “The classes I took and the clinical experiences I received really pushed me and led me to this intersection of anatomy and concussion research.”

Even as an undergraduate at UW-Madison, Stamm says she was contemplating one day seeking a Ph.D., perhaps in a field related to sports medicine. But she explains that she didn’t immediately have a good feel for what field of study to pursue.

Stamm says that taking Anatomy 328 and 329 at UW-Madison piqued her interest in that particular area, and explains how it was during her time as an athletic training student -- while doing a clinical rotation at a Madison high school -- that she also became increasingly interested concussions.

“There were a string of quite a few student-athletes suffering concussions at this high school, and in one instance a person had post-concussion syndrome that lasted for months,” says Stamm. “That experience really led to my research interests in concussions and their long-term consequences.”

Stamm worked as a graduate assistant athletic trainer at Boston University during the 2010-11 school year. She then applied, and was accepted into, the Ph.D. program on the medical campus at BU.

The recent study co-authored by Stamm was backed by National Institutes of Health funding and published online in the Jan. 28 edition of the journal Neurology. It indicates that former National Football League players who played tackle football before the age of 12 are more likely to have memory and thinking problems as adults.

“With my athletic training background, I’ve been interested in this topic for awhile now,” says Stamm. “I’m especially interested in learning more about, ‘How do we get from kids playing football to these long-term neurological problems?’ ”

She adds: “The findings are very striking in that we have clinical data suggesting that experiencing repeated hits to the head while playing football at a young age could be a risk factor for later problems. Kids who are hitting their heads over and over during this important time of brain development may have consequences later in life. That’s scary because I believe sports can offer huge benefits to kids, as far as work ethic, leadership, and fitness. So we think kids should play sports, but we want it to be safe for them.”

This is just one study, however, and Stamm says she would like to continue further examining various aspects of concussions and their effects.

“It’s exciting to see an alum from our program working at the heart of such a hot and important topic,” says Andrew Winterstein, the director of UW-Madison’s Athletic Training program. “Hopefully this will spawn more good work in the future.”

Stamm is planning to return to Madison and is looking for opportunities to continue participating in concussion research.

“The athletic training program at UW-Madison really put me on the path that led me to where I am today,” says Stamm.