Posted on April 20, 2010 · Posted in Brain Injury

The National Football League, which until recently was in denial about the long-term impact of concussions on its players as they age, is helping to foot the bill for research on the topic.

The NFL is donating $1 million to support the study of brain trauma at the Boston University School of Medicine, officials said Tuesday.

The gift to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) will be used to continue the center’s research into the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma in athletes, in particular football players.

CSTE claims to be have been the driving force in providing evidence that repetitive blows to the head in sports can cause a degenerative brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, that is associated with later life cognitive and behavioral problems, and eventually causes dementia.

The NFL is the first professional sports league to financially support this research at the CSTE.

“We obviously are very interested in the Center’s research on the long-term effects of head trauma in athletes,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “It is our hope this research will lead to a better understanding of these effects and also to developing ways to help detect, prevent and treat these injuries.”

In a press release, the center said that its research has mainly focused on studying the brains of deceased athletes, but that future research will include advancing future pathological understanding of the consequences of sports-related brain trauma. The CSTE will launch a clinical research program to develop methods of early detection and to develop ways to effectively prevent and treat this disease.

“We are extremely grateful to Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL owners for their support of this important research,” Dr. Robert Cantu, CSTE co-director and clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University’s medical school, said in a statement.

“This gift and the significant changes made in recent months by the NFL demonstrate the League’s commitment to the health and safety of current, retired, and future players, as well as millions of youth athletes,” Cantu said. “These unrestricted funds allow us to accelerate our research with independence and scientific integrity.”

CTE, also referred to as dementia pugilistica (or punch drunk syndrome), is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease caused by repetitive concussive and subconcussive brain trauma, and eventually leads to dementia, according to the center.

Although it is well established in boxers, in recent years CTE has been shown to exist in other athletes, including professional and collegiate football players and a professional hockey player, according to the center.

The disease is characterized by the build-up of a toxic protein called tau in the form of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) and neuropil threads (NTs) throughout the brain. The abnormal protein initially impairs the normal functioning of the brain and eventually kills brain cells.

Early on, CTE sufferers may display clinical symptoms such as memory impairment, emotional instability, erratic behavior, depression and problems with impulse control. However, CTE eventually progresses to full-blown dementia. Although similar to Alzheimer’s disease, CTE is an entirely distinct disease.

The CSTE was created in 2008 as a collaborative venture between Boston University’s medical school ad the non-profit Sports Legacy Institute). The CSTE’s mission is to conduct state-of-the-art research of CTE, including its neuropathology and pathogenesis, the clinical presentation and course, methods of diagnosis and early detection, the genetics and other risk factors for CTE, and ways of preventing and treating this cause of dementia.

About the Author

Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice :: 800-992-9447