Pro-Bowler Dave Duerson's Suicide Renews Head Trauma Debate

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"We need to continue the research that we and others are doing looking at causes of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, seeing who is at risk, and to see if there is possibly a genetic predisposition," Julian Bailes, MD, told MedPage Today in a telephone interview.

Bailes, who is co-director along with Omalu of the Brain Injury Research Institute in Morgantown, W. Va., explained that he and his colleagues have now examined about 30 brains looking for evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, not only in football players, but in boxers, wrestlers, and military veterans.

"We would love one day to be able to diagnose it earlier before it's full blown and ends catastrophically as it did in [Duerson's] case," he said in a phone interview.

Omalu believes stronger measures may be needed.

"The brain is not fully developed until about age 18. Impact to the head in younger people may not cause any obvious damage that could be seen on CT or MRI, but on the cellular, epigenetic level there is damage," he said.

"Iron Man" Mike Webster's son Garrett, who is an administrator at the Brain Injury Research Institute, wrote of his father's last years, "He grew increasingly violent and angry with those around him. In the end he died broke, alone, and with only a few loyal friends still looking out for him."

On the institute's website, Garrett Webster continued, "I cannot tell you how much of a relief it was to learn that my father was not wholly responsible for his behavior and actions."

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