Former football player now studies athletes' genes

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a feature on James Kovach, a former linebacker for the New Orleans Saints who is now adjunct professor of biology at Dominican University of California and CEO of Athleticode, a biotech startup that provides personal genetic analyses to athletes.

As a professor, Kovach discusses the ethics of genetic screening of athletes. Last year, the NCAA began requiring all Division I programs to screen for the sickle-cell trait, which has been linked to deaths of several football players. As the head of a company, Kovach analyzes athletes' COL5A1 genes, which are associated with a higher risk of Achilles tendinitis.

The big question that Kovach discusses are the genetic risks of concussion in athletes, connections that will take a long time to understand since some post-concussion symptoms take decades to emerge. "On some of these questions, we won't be able to really say anything for 20 years," Kovach tells The Chronicle. The same is true in assessing risks faced by high school and college football players.

"To know whether it's only the pro athletes or millions of amateur football players--it's going to be years before we know that," he tells The Chronicle.

The article quotes other experts as questioning the ethics of handing over genetic information to people. Kovach acknowledges the ethical challenges, but tells The Chronicle that he would err on the side of patients' right to know.

- read the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (sub. req.)