Junior Seau's Family Donates His Brain to Science

Junior Seau's family decided to donate his brain to science.

ByABC News
May 4, 2012, 12:58 PM

May 4, 2012— -- Junior Seau's family plans to donate his brain to science, San Diego Chargers chaplain Shawn Mitchell announced Thursday evening.

Seau's family said it is not looking to discover anything new about their son or what led to his death, but relatives did say they hope others will benefit from the study of his brain down the road.

Jacopo Annese, director of the University of California at San Diego's Brain Observatory, said that while there is no definitive link between blows to the head and such severe health problems as depression, dementia and Alzheimer's disease, he did say there was strong scientific and anecdotal evidence for such a connection.

"However ghoulish it may appear to the majority of the public, the work that is conducted postmortem is essential to validate this hypothesis, because the important clues are at the cellular-level, and we can't see these with MRI, but we can with our microscopes," Annese told ABCNews.com.

While research methodology has not changed dramatically, the questions have evolved, offering clues into the potential lifetime adverse effects of hits and blows to the head.

"Searching for the link between traumatic injury and more subtle and insidious effects like depression, suicide and dementia," said Annese, "has been particularly crucial in the world of sports, where unprecedented body mass and acceleration create the scenario for severe trauma if there is a collision."

On Thursday, the San Diego County Coroner ruled former longtime NFL linebacker Junior Seau's death a suicide.

Officials conducted a forensic autopsy, which includes "a full examination of a decedent's body and organs and collection of specimens for laboratory studies."

Seau, 43, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest Wednesday morning at his Oceanside, Calif., home.

The 12-time former Pro Bowl player's death came one day before more than 100 former NFL players filed a federal lawsuit in Atlanta, claiming the league did not properly protect them against concussions and did not properly provide medical care after they finished their careers.

The Associated Press reported that the league has said any accusation that the NFL intentionally misled players was not true.

Seau's death echoes that of other athletes in hard-hitting sports, including Chicago Bears football player Dave Duerson. Duerson shot himself in the chest in February of last year. Duerson's family filed a wrongful death suit against the NFL, stating the league did not protect players against concussions.

On Thursday morning, rumors swirled as to whether Seau shot himself in the chest so that his brain could be studied. He didn't leave a note, but Sports Illustrated reported Thursday that Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy requested to study Seau's brain. The sports mag later clarified the statement by saying the center attempts to examine the brains of all athletes who die after making a career playing hard-hitting sports. It is not known where Seau's brain will be sent for study.