Research provides new insight into head hits, CTE

Alarming new BU study shows impacts, not just concussions, lead to brain disease

Alarming new BU study shows impacts, not just concussions, lead to brain disease

Head impacts, not just concussions, may lead to the degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), according to new research.

Dr. Lee Goldstein is a researcher at Boston University where he specializes in degenerative orders, specifically Alzheimer's disease - which shares numerous same symptoms as CTE. They exposed the mice to repeated head injuries like that seen in football and also to a single head trauma such as those suffered by the military personnel in military combat.

The study concludes that concussions have no correlation with the disease.

These researchers studied the brains of four teenage athletes who suffered brain injuries at varying points in time before their deaths and the damaged brains of mice.

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Clumps of tau proteins are commonly found in the Alzheimer's-diseased brain but what sets CTE apart is that the tau clumps form around small blood vessels, and most often near the bottom of sulci, the deep folds in the brain's cortex. Concussion is "not only not correlated, we can decouple it", said Goldstein. The more important factor are blows to the head in general. Goldstein said that while the new work advanced understanding of the mechanisms underlying CTE, it's not clear how frequently people experience these types of changes in the brain. "What it tells us is as these hits are occurring even in the early aftermath - days, weeks, months after these injuries, this disease is already being kicked off". Lee Goldstein, who is with Boston University.

In 2017, a lot of attention was drawn to CTE and the ungodly number of National Football League players who suffer from the brain disease. While it's not clear how common CTE is, Goldstein said the brains examined in the new study are a warning. It doesn't take years, or decades.

"The real exposure to larger players, higher velocity hits and hundreds of hits starts in high school", he said. "And all of our evidence to date shows it's progressive".

Meanwhile, multiple cases - with hundreds of plaintiffs - alleging the NCAA knew about the dangers of football and failed to protect players should move forward later this year; the goal of those suits is to compensate players and family members who have lived with the damage the game caused, but also to warn current and future players about the issues they may face. The athletic director at Walpole High School says he already plans to talk to coaches about the findings from BU, to find ways players can avoid those risky hits. "That's critical. But there's two different issues going on - one is concussion, which is by definition a temporary problem. There are all sorts of ways to do it more safely", he said.

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