The January 2011 NeuroHealth Innovation Workshop on TBI and PTSD is focused primarily on brain injuries suffered by soldiers during combat. On the civilian side, sports' brain injuries are also a major health concern at all levels of contact sports from peewee to pro football. (See past CIMIT Blog post: Young Kids at High Risk of Traumatic Brain Injury. Repeated blows to the head can cause long-term brain damage as the brain tissue degenerates slowly throughout life -- a process that continues long after retirement.
Research at BU's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) is examining the brains of former athletes for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) -- specifically those who have died before the age of 50. Preliminary results are significant. Researchers found CTE in 6 brains from an initial study of 7 players, and as of Fall 2010, found CTE in an additional 26 athlete brains. However, this research study needs to obtain more than 100 brains to examine. In light of proven long-term injury and early death, there is concern that this research could "ruin football." As you can imagine, obtaining players' brains after death presents a bit of a challenge.
A former college football player and pro-wrestler who suffered from post-concussion syndrome, Christopher Nowinski, is co-director of BU’s CSTE and actively works to obtain the post-mortem brains of former players for CTE research through donation to the research's Brain Bank (future donation pledged from boxer Mikey Ward). Nowinski wrote the book "Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis," which was a catalyst for change in the sports concussion movement. On Jan. 20, Nowinski was as a guest on NPR's Fresh Air broadcast on "Brain Injuries Haunt Football Players Years Later" where he talked about this public health concern and the research at BU's Center by researchers such as Dr. Ann McKee, a BU School of Medicine, Associate Professor of Neurology and Pathology.
McKee has examined the brains of former hockey players, pro wrestlers, boxers, and college, semipro, and pro football players as well as combat soldiers exposed to bomb blasts. Dr. McKee gave a talk on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) with Robert Stern, BU, at the CIMIT - Wellcome Trust NeuroHealth Innovation Workshop (invitation-only), Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011.