Neurology Central

Concussion and CTE: From case studies to systematic data

With a Hollywood film and major lawsuits concussion is firmly in the public consciousness but what are we doing about it?

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is not a new disease, with first reports of dementia pugilistica (now widely known as CTE) in boxers dating back to the late 1920s. Recent focus on CTE was sparked by a series of postmortem brain studies conducted on former American football players, as well as some other athletes and miltary veterans, by Drs Bennet Omalu (UC Davis, CA, USA) and Julian Bailes (Northshore, IL, USA) in the early 2000’s. “Research and understanding of CTE continues today,” explains Bailes. “There is a lot we don’t understand about it, just like in Alzheimer’s disease. With CTE we don’t know the potential for it to overlap with other types of neurodegeneration including Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.” It is this gap in the research that is attracting scientists from across the field of neurodegeneration.

Renowned Alzheimer’s geneticist and Fellow of the Royal Society John Hardy (University College London, UK) has acknowledged that advancements in understanding Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s pathology could provide a framework for rigorous study of CTE. “We now need to move past these individual case reports and generate systematic data. Science works by interpretation of systematic data, and that’s what we need. We need systematic epidemiology and systematic following of people who have played contact sports.”

One answer to these calls for systematic data has come from a partnership between University College of London Professor of Clinical Neuroscience Huw Morris and London-based not-for-profit, The Drake Foundation. As previously reported on Neurology Central here, the team are working with Saracens Rugby Club to match blood biomarker levels with impact data collected during practices and matches, in the hope of identifying reliable markers of concussive impacts.

Despite recent hype, there is a lack of understanding of the true incidence of CTE in former athletes, and others subjected to repeated concussions. The importance of investigating this while working to avoid fear around sports participation has been summarized by Hardy; “the last thing we want is for everyone to become couch potatoes, develop type II diabetes, get fat and die early. We want people to enjoy sports but we want, of course, them to enjoy sports as safely as we can advise them and it’s great that this type of work is now starting in a systematic fashion.”

Source:  The Drake Foundation press conference (London, 5th February 2016)