Athletes trying to prevent a form of dementia in young athletes

Super bowl champs and NFL Hall of Famers are a few of the athletes who'll be part of a major study, after they've passed on.

A former pro-wrestling star who helped get the NFL's concussion policy changed wants to treat and prevent a form of dementia called CTE. And adding to his brain bank could help make it happen.

From high school to Harvard, to the NFL, Isaiah Kaczyvenski's life was football. Now, the former linebacker, who still suffers the affects of at least five concussions, has committed to help a new team. One day, Isaiah's brain will be here, in the brain bank. This is where neuropathologist, Doctor Ann McKee examines the donated brains of deceased athletes, looking for signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. It's believed to be caused by repeat concussions or other brain trauma.

Doctor Ann McKee, MD, Professor of Neurology & Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, Director, Neuropathology Core, explains how people with CTE brain’s can be compared to brains in older people, "You'd compare it to some older person say 70s and 80s with severe end stage dementia."

Chris Nowinski, Co-Director, Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, gives the results of NFL players they tested, "14 of the first 15 NFL players that we looked at for this disease had it."

Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy's Chris Nowinski, recruits athletes to donate their brains. The former professional wrestler, is also Isaiah's college teammate.

Nowinski thoughts on the results of CTE, "This is the only type of dementia that exists that's preventable."

CTE has been spotted in deceased college and high school athletes. Nowinski says to help prevent it...we need to limit what young athletes do on the field.

Nowinski explains what should not be done by young children, "And people are going to fight like heck to say should a 6 year old be heading a soccer ball."

Isaiah knows he's at risk for CTE, and that when his brain gets here, it could prevent the next generation from developing it.

More than 500 living athletes have agreed to donate their brains to the research. To date, about 100 brains have been examined at the brain bank. And more than fifty have been diagnosed with CTE.

Chris and Isaiah have started going to the super bowl every year to recruit NFL players to donate their brains. Doctor McKee says right now there's also a big need for brains from non-athletes to help with her research.


REPORT: MB #3378

BACKGROUND: The progressive degenerative disease of the brain in athletes with a history of repetitive brain trauma is known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. It was originally introduced as the term punch-drunk in 1928 due to repeated blows to the head professional boxers endured. Then it became known as dementia pugilistica and the psychopathic deterioration of pugilists- a pugilist is a boxer. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University is currently recruiting athletes to donate their brains in order to study, understand and hopefully find a way to reverse the effects of CTE. CTE is known to cause memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression and eventually, progressive dementia.

CAUSES: CTE is caused by repetitive head injuries, in which the trauma triggers progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the buildup of an abnormal protein called tau.

SYMPTOMS: CTE has three different stages. The first stage is characterized by effective disturbances and psychotic symptoms. The second stage shows signs of social instability, erratic behavior, memory loss and initial symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The third stage consists of general cognitive dysfunction progressing to dementia and is often accompanied by full blown Parkinson's, as well as speech and walking abnormalities.

APPLICATION: The VA CSTE Brain Bank was established in 2008 at the Bedford Veterans Administration Medical Center in Bedford, MA. Brain donations of the deceased are accepted in order to study the tissue and spinal cord to better understand the effects of trauma on the human nervous system. It would help to establish a diagnostic test for living persons with CTE, genetic risk factors, environmental risk factors and treatment for CTE.

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