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MCW to co-lead national study to examine 20-year neurologic health outcomes in former NFL players

Five-year project will also investigate diagnosis, treatment and prevention of CTE

Milwaukee, Nov. 15, 2018 – The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) will co-lead a study on potential long-term neurologic health consequences of concussions and sub-concussive injuries sustained by former NFL players. Michael McCrea, PhD, professor & eminent scholar, vice chair of research and co-director of the Center for Neurotrauma Research in the MCW Department of Neurosurgery, is co-principal investigator on the study.

Concern has been growing in medical, football, and other sports communities that repetitive concussions sustained during play may lead to chronic neurologic health problems later in life. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a pathological condition defined as abnormal tau proteins in the brain — has been reported in post-mortem studies of former NFL football players.

“There is a pressing need for data-driven approaches to better understand the risk, incidence, characteristics, progression, and treatment of neurologic health problems faced by former NFL players,” said William Meehan, MD, of Boston Children’s Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center, and the study’s principal investigator. “A data-driven approach is also needed to determine the potential effects of sport-related concussions and sub-concussive blows — including the potential for CTE.”

The study will track up to 2,500 former NFL players previously surveyed in 2001 with annual follow-up health assessments. Former players who exhibit impairment will undergo repeated, detailed in-person research evaluations. The researchers will assess for associations between clinical outcomes and abnormal tau buildup as well as examine other risk factors for neurologic health outcomes.

Preventing neurologic complications

Simultaneously, building on previous research from Boston Children’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the project will conduct preclinical laboratory studies to investigate several potential therapies for preventing neurologic health problems, including CTE, after injury and for slowing their progression. The most effective therapies will then be translated into clinical intervention studies for former football players identified as being at risk.

Researchers at MCW have been investigating traumatic brain injuries and sports-related concussions for more than 25 years.

Boston Children’s Hospital has received $14.7 million from the National Football League for the study, and the research team will be led by Dr. Meehan, in collaboration with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Medical College of Wisconsin and University Orthopedic Center - State College, PA. Combined with results of a survey conducted in 2001, the project will give a prospective view of health outcomes over a 20-year span.

Other co-principal investigators include Kevin Guskiewicz, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Kun Ping Lu, MD, PhD, and Xiao Zhen Zhou, MD, both of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; and Ruben Echemendia, PhD, of University Orthopedic Center - State College, PA.

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