3 NFL Stars to Donate Brain Tissue for Trauma Research

Sept. 15 -- MONDAY, Sept. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Three National Football League star players have agreed to donate their brain and spinal cord tissue after they die to help scientists learn more about the link between brain trauma suffered by athletes and dementia later in life.

The players -- Matt Birk of the Baltimore Ravens, Lofa Tatupu of the Seattle Seahawks and Sean Morey of the Arizona Cardinals -- are the first active NFL players to join more than 150 former athletes on the Brain Donation Registry at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at Boston University School of Medicine.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), once believed to affect only boxers, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated trauma to the brain. Early symptoms may include memory impairment, emotional instability, erratic behavior, depression and impulse control problems. The condition eventually progresses to full-blown dementia, according to a news release issued by the university.

In recent years, CTE has been found in 10 deceased athletes, including professional football players, boxers and a professional wrestler.

"The science is clear that CTE is a threat to the health and well-being of all contact sports athletes. I would like to do my part to raise awareness and help the research advance toward treatment and an eventual cure," Birk, a Pro Bowl center for the Ravens, said in the news release.

"CTE is the only fully preventable cause of dementia," Dr. Robert Cantu, a leading sports concussion expert and clinical professor of neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine, pointed out in the news release. "By studying large numbers of athletes throughout their lives, as well as examining brain tissue through our expanding CSTE brain bank, we will be able to determine the specific risk factors for CTE and potentially develop effective treatments. The research will foster education and allow meaningful guidelines to be implemented at all levels of athletic participation."

Athletes on the CSTE Brain Donation Registry are interviewed annually throughout their lives and, when they die, their brain tissues will be examined.

"These active NFL players have admirably ignored concerns held by many athletes that by participating in this research, they could be perceived as having a concussion history that could negatively affect their career and contract negotiations," Chris Nowinski, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, said in the news release.

More information

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons has more about sports-related head injuries.

SOURCE: Boston Medical Center, news release, Sept. 14, 2009