In 2008 Dr. Ann McKee and three of her colleagues started the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University. The center was founded to raise awareness about the dangers of repetitive head injuries. TheBoston Globe reported that in just 17 months, the center has succeeded in drawing massive attention to the connection between multiple concussions and later brain dysfunction by focusing on the NFL.
The CSTE mission is ‘to conduct state-of-the-art research of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, including its neuropathology and pathogenesis, the clinical presentation and course, the genetics and other risk factors for CTE, and ways of preventing this cause of dementia,’ according to the center’s Web site.
Since the center was founded, the NFL has instituted stricter return-to-play guidelines that require an independent neurologist to OK players before going back to the game after a concussion. Sixty NFL players have donated their brains to the center for future research. In less than two years, the NFL has moved from a stance of denying any connection between multiple head injuries and later dementia among its players to one of advocating research and cautioning youth about the dangers of multiple concussions.
The Globe article reported, ‘The NFL has recently begun airing commercials warning young athletes of potentially permanent memory problems.’ The CSTE attributes the NFL’s shift in perspective to rigorous research and a high profile campaign in the media. Chris Nowinski, a co-founder of CSTE, told the Globe, ‘The problem was, the NFL had the big microphone and would dispute the issue until they couldn’t anymore, the way to combat their publicity was to link up with a big academic university.’
After founding the Sports Legacy Institute in 2007, Nowinski met with Dr. Ann McKee and Robert Stein to found CSTE. In addition to pushing the NFL to make changes, the CSTE has also conducted important research on the brains of 11 deceased NFL and college football players to search for signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), according to the Globe. McKee noted the accumulation of tau, a toxic protein, in each of the athlete’s brains. However, McKee was shocked to find the buildup of tau in the brain of a deceased high school athlete as well, prompting her and CSTE to target the NFL.
The center’s early success will likely blossom into a future of groundbreaking research and findings, all of which hold the potential to lower the occurrence of CTE in sports and to improve the conditions and understanding for those with brain injuries and subsequent long-term effects.
CSTE. (February 2, 2010) ‘Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy.’ Retrieved on February 2, 2010 from the Boston University Web site: http://www.bu.edu/cste/
Lazar, Kay. (February 2, 2010) ‘Parents, doctors prod NFL on brain injuries.’ Retrieved on February 2, 2010 from the Boston Globe Web site:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/02/sports/football/02concussions.html