Boston University School of Medicine’s Center for Traumatic Encephalopathy is leading the way in groundbreaking research on head trauma injuries, specifically related to athletes. Founded in 2008 as a joint venture with Sports Legacy Institute, the Center studies Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive concussions, according to the Center. Buildup of a toxic protein called tau can cause memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, paranoia, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and lastly, dementia. The Center’s research suggests that athletes previously diagnosed with ALS could in fact have had CTE instead.
The Center’s diagnosis of mild CTE in a college football player who committed suicide recently with no past concussions was its latest discovery – Owen Thomas was the youngest named person (and active player) studied whose brain exhibited signs of the disease.
Recently, soccer star Taylor Twellman of the New England Revolution agreed to donate his brain, acknowledging the reason researchers want to study it is disconcerting :
“It’s not hard (to donate) in that you want to help people down the road,” Twellman told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “But it is hard since they want your brain because it’s been damaged.”
Twellman has suffered seven concussions to date.
In April 2010 the NFL gave $1 million to the Center in support of the research effort. Current NFL athletes who agreed to donate include Matt Birk, Lofa Tatupu, and Sean Morey. The list of retired athletes is growing with more than 250 athletes, including 60 retired NFL players, such as Hunter Hillenmeyer, Mike Haynes, Zach Thomas, Kyle Turley, Conrad Dobler, Ted Johnson, Joe DeLamielleure, Bruce Laird, Ben Lynch, Brent Boyd, and Bernie Parrish.
In a large medical market like Boston, it is critical to distinguish your hospital and university medical program from others, and BU is doing exactly that. Major media coverage from top U.S. dailies and widespread recognition within the medical community is helping to build prominence for the Center. Its reputation is growing regardless, as the significant work speaks for itself. The real importance, however, lies in the content of the research– how can sports be safer, especially for young athletes? The BU School of Medicine is finding out.