Neurosurgeon Joseph Maroon began working as a consulting physician for the Pittsburgh Steelers starting in 1977, and for more than 46 years has worked with notorious names such as Hall of Famers Terry Bradshaw, Mean Joe Green and Lynn Swann. He has examined and treated star athletes from a strict dynasty. .
Many of them were concerned about their brain health, he said, because they were playing when concussions were considered “dents” and full-contact practice was common and the hardest blows were still allowed. Stated.
“Certainly everyone who has attended that level has some level of concern,” Maroon said at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian Hospital office last week. “But we haven’t seen the epidemic that you might expect in an era when there were fewer protective helmets, fewer rules, and harder fields to play. There are so many unknowns.”
An increasing number of scientific studies have been conducted over the past 15 years, discovering links between repeated head trauma and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease. Many of them came through Boston University’s CTE Center, which has tested the brains of hundreds of former NFL players, other athletes and military personnel.
However, Maroon has previously measured the CTE rate of soccer players as ” “rare” phenomenon and “too exaggerated“Some athletes have little to no symptoms associated with CTE, such as memory loss, impulse control problems, and depression, while others are overwhelmed with them,” said further. I felt that I needed to do some research.
So five years ago, Maroon and Steelers owner Art Rooney II asked doctors at the University of Pittsburgh’s Alzheimer’s Research Center to focus on sports to study age, genetics, substance abuse, and the role of population. We talked about starting a brain bank. Head impact and other factors influence the development of CTE
The result is the National Sports Brain Bank at the University of Pittsburgh, which will officially open on Thursday. After years of delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the center has accepted brain pledges from athletes including former Steelers running backs Jerome Bettis and Merrill Hoge.
Because CTE can only be diagnosed after death, and doctors are still years away from developing a test to detect the disease while alive, postmortem donations to brainbanks remain the primary way to advance research.
The center will also begin recruiting volunteers (athletes at all levels of sport and non-athletes as a control group) to provide health histories and be monitored over the next few years. That information is compared to their postmortem brain state to determine if there were factors that influenced the presence or absence of CTE.
“We don’t know where the CTE threshold is,” said Julia Koffler, director of the Department of Neuropathology at the University of Pittsburgh, which oversees SportsBrainbank. “Yes, we have seen cases that were symptomatic but had very mild pathology, and that is the problem. increase.”
The National Sports Brain Bank will rely on the infrastructure of the Alzheimer’s Research Center. The center already has more than 2,000 brains, most of which are not from athletes. The Sports Brain Bank will use seed funding from the Chuck Knoll Foundation, the Pittsburgh Foundation, and the Richard King Mellon Foundation to find volunteers for long-term research and those willing to commit their brains.
Pittsburgh’s Maroon, Koffler and others acknowledged the work of Boston University physicians, who are the undisputed leaders in CTE research. The researchers there include his more than 1,350 brains, selected not only from football players, but also athletes who have played hockey, rugby, soccer and other sports, as well as military personnel.So far, about 700 of these brains have been found to have CTEs.
But Maroon said some of the studies produced by the Boston group were biased because families typically donated the brains of relatives who had symptoms consistent with CTE during life. . Family memories of the former player’s concussion history may be inaccurate when asked for details of a loved one’s head injury.
A long-term study by the Pittsburgh researchers should “reduce, eliminate, remove that kind of bias,” Maroon said.
Anne McKee, a neuropathologist who heads Boston University’s CTE Center, said her group had long recognized selection biases among families. He also said doctors at Boston University have already conducted several longitudinal studies.
“We’re doing all of this,” McKee said, adding, “It’s always nice to have another group on board, and it will accelerate research, and especially scientific discoveries around treatments.” added. So that’s great.”
Unlike Boston University, the National Sports Brain Bank has not shied away from its NFL ties. The Chuck Noll Brain Research Foundation, named after the former Steelers head coach who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease before his death in 2014, provided seed funding to the NFL. Bank. The foundation was established in 2016 in part by donations from the Steelers’ philanthropic arm, providing over $2.5 million in research grants to study the diagnosis and treatment of brain injuries that occur primarily during sports. I’ve been
“For the Steelers, it was important for us to back this up,” Rooney said in a phone interview. “Obviously, we are in the early stages of this effort, but hopefully it will get the attention it needs to be truly successful.”
Hoge, a former Steelers running back who agreed to brain donations, chose the National Sports Brain Bank because the University of Pittsburgh and other institutions in the city were centers of brain health innovation, including the development of helmet technology. said. . He also noted that former coach Knoll was pushing this. test development Evaluate a player’s cognitive ability, which can be used as a baseline for identifying concussion. It is the predecessor of the Immediate Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test (IMPACT), which is used worldwide.
Hoge, who co-authored the 2018 book Brainwashing: The Bad Science Behind CTE and the Conspiracy to Destroy Football, added that he believed in the integrity of the research at Pittsburgh’s Brainbank.
“There are so many misunderstandings and fears,” Hoge said. “I think it’s very important to help them find the right information and provide them with other information and resources to help them with their thought process.”
Gil Rabinovitch, director of the Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research at the University of California, San Francisco, noted the Pittsburgh Group’s NFL ties, saying, “This type of research can be done in the absence of potential conflicts between funders and researchers.” It is best to implement it in .
He added that the Boston researchers have done an “excellent job” in understanding the pathogenesis of CTE, adding, “But in science, there is independence from different groups that study the same scientific question differently and hopefully come to similar conclusions.” We need to replicate that,” he added.