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NIH Awards BU-led Team $15.9M Grant to Study Sports-Related Brain Injury

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – A team led by Boston University researchers has received a seven-year, $15.9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop methods for detecting and diagnosing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

CTE is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by the accumulation of abnormal tau protein in the brain. It is commonly associated with repetitive head injuries, such as those sustained in boxing or football, and is currently only diagnosable through post-mortem brain dissection.

"We currently have no method to diagnosis CTE during life and it is crucial to take the next steps to better understand this disease," Jeffrey Cummings, director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and study investigator, said in a statement. "This grant will allow us to take what we know about CTE and move to the next level of research, with the end goal of diagnosing these athletes at early stages of the illness when treatments may help prevent the progression of the disease."

With the grant funding, the investigators will conduct a multicenter, longitudinal study of former athletes with high and medium exposure to repetitive head impacts, including 120 former National Football League players with and without symptoms, as well as control subjects who have no history of head trauma.

Study participants will undergo clinical examinations, PET and MRI scans, and provide biofluid samples for analysis to enable the researchers to identify potential biomarkers or imaging patterns associated with CTE. The scientists will also refine and validate specific criteria for clinical diagnosis of the disease and investigate genetic and head impact exposure risk factors for CTE.

"This research is an exciting and important opportunity to acquire new information about the potential devastating consequences of repetitive head impact including CTE," said Brigham and Women's Hospital researcher Martha Shenton in the statement. "We hope that by gaining this knowledge, new avenues of treatment will emerge for those who experience debilitating symptoms from repetitive brain trauma."