HOUSTON -

Studies have shown that the number of girls suffering concussions playing soccer is only second to football.

The front part of the brain, where you head the ball, controls short-term memory, working memory, impulse control and attention.

But rather than studying that in a lab with expensive equipment, UTHealth neuroscientists developed an app for that, and it yielded some pretty surprising results.

Girls playing soccer suffer about twice as many concussions as boys, but not much research has been done looking into the effects of repeatedly heading the ball, so called sub-concussive blows.

UTHealth neuroscientist Anne Sereno led an iPad-based experiment to test the impact of "ball heading" among girl varsity soccer players.

Sereno said, "It was very surprising and this is a very important topic right now."

Her team developed a simple iPad app to measure cognitive function.

Subjects were required to touch a visual target on the iPad screen and, in a separate task, touch the screen in the opposite direction of the target.

Sereno tested 12 varsity soccer girls between 15 and 18 years old right after practice and compared their results to 12 girls in non-contact sports. Researchers found significant changes "consistent with mild traumatic brain injury."

Sereno explained, "So very small 30- to 50-millisecond changes to their response specifically to tasks that require cognitive (skills), but not for more simple tasks."

Further research would be needed to determine if those slight changes were long lasting.

Sereno said she hopes the iPad app could be further developed to be used as a tool in the field, in emergency rooms, even at home.