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Entries in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (3)

Friday
May252012

Brain Injuries Raise New Concerns for Young Football Players

Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For almost a decade, Jacob Bell was living his dream: making millions playing professional football, starting 100 games for the Tennessee Titans and the St. Louis Rams.

But every season, he took thousands of hits to the head, and he worried about the toll it might be taking on his brain health.  Then came a moment of truth: the suicide of longtime NFL player Junior Seau.

"Seau's death rocked everybody.  It rocked me a lot," Bell said.  "The fact that there is a chance it was football-related and the fact that I was a football player, it hit home with me."

And so he quit the NFL, walking away from a free-agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals earlier this month.

Bell said his plan now is to act as an advocate for players, alerting them to the dangers of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.  First discovered about a decade ago in the brains of former football players, it's a degenerative disease linked to symptoms like dementia, erratic behavior, and suicide.  The small cadre of doctors who study CTE have diagnosed it in dozens of now-dead NFL players.

The NFL released a statement in February, saying that the league "has long made player safety a priority and continues to take steps to protect players and advance the science and medical understanding of the management and treatment of concussions."  In 2010, the league donated a $1 million grant, no strings attached, to Boston University School of Medicine's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE), which researches brain disease in retired football players.

But there is increasing evidence that the way the game is played is leaving a trail of invisible injuries, even among amateur athletes who have never sustained the kind of knock-out concussions often seen on the NFL gridiron.

According to research published in this month's issue of Neurology, a football player could sustain 8,000 hits over the course of a four-year high school and a four-year college career combined.

Owen Thomas is one of the youngest players ever diagnosed with CTE.  It was discovered in his brain after he committed suicide during his senior year at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the captain of the football team.  He was 21.

Doctors are now on the leading edge of discovering how young players like Thomas -- with no documented history of concussions -- might have damaged their brains.

Researchers call these hits "subconcussive blows" -- moments at which the brain hits the inside of the skull, but not hard enough to sustain what a doctor would diagnose as concussion.

The question now is whether an accumulation of these lesser blows over time could cause brain damage powerful enough to lead to CTE, which has thus far mostly been documented in professional players with a history of concussions.´╗┐

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec062011

Derek Boogaard: NHL Enforcer Had Brain Disease

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Derek Boogaard, the former National Hockey League player who died from a drug overdose at age 28 in May, had chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- a progressive brain disease linked to concussions.

Dr. Ann McKee, director of neuropathology at the Bedford VA Medical Center and co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, examined Boogaard's brain and determined it showed signs of early CTE -- a post-mortem diagnosis he shared with more than 50 other athletes, including other hockey players, football players, wrestlers and boxers, according to the center's research.

"Unfortunately this finding does not contribute to our knowledge of the risks of normal hockey play for most participants, as very few hockey players engage in as many fights as Boogaard," Chris Nowinski, who co-directs the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy with McKee, said in a statement. "Athletes and parents should know that anyone who experiences repetitive brain trauma may be at risk to develop CTE, but we are hopeful that risk is small in hockey."

Boogaard was one of the NHL's most aggressive players, reportedly participating in more than 60 regular season fights. According to his family, Boogaard had his "bell rung" at least 20 times, but reported few concussions to his team or medical staff.

CTE shares features with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease. When severe, it can lead to dementia, impulsivity and rage.

In the two years before his death, Boogaard suffered from emotional instability, impulse control problems, short-term memory loss and disorientation. His death came months before the apparent suicides of two fellow NHL 'enforcers,' 35-year-old Wade Belak of the Nashville Predators and 27-year-old Rick Rypien of the Winnipeg Jets.

Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy co-director Dr. Robert Cantu said in a statement: "...based on the small sample of enforcers we have studied, it is possible that frequently engaging in fistfights as a hockey player may put one at increased risk for this degenerative brain disease."

Boogaard's brain is one of 99 athlete brains already received by the VA Brain Bank. Of 70 analyzed, more than 50 have shown signs of CTE.

More than 500 living athletes, including more than a dozen former hockey players, have agreed to donate their brains to the VA Brain Bank -- a gift they hope will protect future athletes.

"I think this is an enormous problem for athletes," McKee said of CTE. "By signing on to this research, they promote their own long-term safety and certainly the safety of future players."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct072011

Athletes Rally for Concussion Research

In a photo taken just weeks before his death, Rick Martin (#7) poses with old Buffalo Sabres teammates Rene Robert (#14) and Gilbert Perrault (#11), along with Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula.Rick Stewart/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- More than 500 current and former U.S. athletes have agreed to donate their brains to research – a gift they hope will protect future athletes from a progressive brain disease linked to concussions.

Former Buffalo Sabre Rick Martin, who died from a heart attack in March at age 59, is the latest professional athlete to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a condition brought on by repeated head trauma with features of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Lou Gehrig's disease. Although he had no symptoms, Martin's brain showed tell-tale signs of damage that researchers say would have led to dementia, impulsivity and rage.

"He had relatively mild CTE," said Dr. Ann Mckee, director of neuropathology at the Bedford VA Medical Center and co-director of Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, where Martin's brain was studied. "At the age of 59, although he had some evidence of this neurodegeneration, it wasn't terribly advanced."

Martin's is one of 96 athlete brains already received by the VA Brain Bank. Of 70 analyzed, more than 50 have shown signs of CTE, including those from 14 of 15 former National Football League players.

But most of the athlete brains at the VA Brain Bank show signs of more severe disease. Like Alzheimer's disease, CTE has stages dictated by the amount and distribution of an abnormal protein called tau in the brain. In the early stages, the protein tends to cluster around blood vessels, later spreading to other "hotspots" in the brain involved in memory, movement and personality.

"As it gets more profound -- and this takes decades, really -- then we definitely see changes in memory, emotionality, even rage behavior," said McKee.

And it gets worse. The disease continues to progress -- albeit more slowly than Alzheimer's disease -- until patients have dementia, disrupted speech and uncoordinated movement.

"In the last three and a half years, we have made dramatic, really remarkable gains in understanding the nature of this disease: how it progresses through the nervous system; what kind of symptom to expect at each stage," said McKee. "The hope is that now that we know what it is we're dealing with, we can really address with research and basic science how to prevent it, how to slow it down or how to cure it."

That's why more than 500 athletes have signed on to donate their brains to the VA Brain Bank.

"I think this is an enormous problem for athletes," said McKee of CTE. "By signing on to this research, they promote their own long-term safety and certainly the safety of future players."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio´╗┐







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