Medical College of Wisconsin
Press Release

MCW to co-lead national study to examine 20-year neurologic health outcomes in former NFL players

Five-year project will also investigate diagnosis, treatment and prevention of CTE

By - Nov 15th, 2018 02:40 pm

Milwaukee, Nov. 15, 2018 – The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) will co-lead a study on potential long-term neurologic health consequences of concussions and sub-concussive injuries sustained by former NFL players. Michael McCrea, PhD, professor & eminent scholar, vice chair of research and co-director of the Center for Neurotrauma Research in the MCW Department of Neurosurgery, is co-principal investigator on the study.

Concern has been growing in medical, football, and other sports communities that repetitive concussions sustained during play may lead to chronic neurologic health problems later in life. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — a pathological condition defined as abnormal tau proteins in the brain — has been reported in post-mortem studies of former NFL football players.

“There is a pressing need for data-driven approaches to better understand the risk, incidence, characteristics, progression, and treatment of neurologic health problems faced by former NFL players,” said William Meehan, MD, of Boston Children’s Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Center, and the study’s principal investigator. “A data-driven approach is also needed to determine the potential effects of sport-related concussions and sub-concussive blows — including the potential for CTE.”

The study will track up to 2,500 former NFL players previously surveyed in 2001 with annual follow-up health assessments. Former players who exhibit impairment will undergo repeated, detailed in-person research evaluations. The researchers will assess for associations between clinical outcomes and abnormal tau buildup as well as examine other risk factors for neurologic health outcomes.

Preventing neurologic complications

Simultaneously, building on previous research from Boston Children’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the project will conduct preclinical laboratory studies to investigate several potential therapies for preventing neurologic health problems, including CTE, after injury and for slowing their progression. The most effective therapies will then be translated into clinical intervention studies for former football players identified as being at risk.

Researchers at MCW have been investigating traumatic brain injuries and sports-related concussions for more than 25 years.

Boston Children’s Hospital has received $14.7 million from the National Football League for the study, and the research team will be led by Dr. Meehan, in collaboration with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Medical College of Wisconsin and University Orthopedic Center – State College, PA. Combined with results of a survey conducted in 2001, the project will give a prospective view of health outcomes over a 20-year span.

Other co-principal investigators include Kevin Guskiewicz, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Kun Ping Lu, MD, PhD, and Xiao Zhen Zhou, MD, both of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center; and Ruben Echemendia, PhD, of University Orthopedic Center – State College, PA.

With a history dating back to 1893, The Medical College of Wisconsin is dedicated to leadership and excellence in education, patient care, research and community engagement.  More than 1,200 students are enrolled in MCW’s medical school and graduate school programs in Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Central Wisconsin. MCW’s School of Pharmacy opened in 2017. A major national research center, MCW is the largest research institution in the Milwaukee metro area and second largest in Wisconsin. In FY2016, faculty received more than $184 million in external support for research, teaching, training and related purposes. This total includes highly competitive research and training awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Annually, MCW faculty direct or collaborate on more than 3,100 research studies, including clinical trials. Additionally, more than 1,500 physicians provide care in virtually every specialty of medicine for more than 525,000 patients annually.

About the Scientific Advisory Board

Through the NFL’s Play Smart. Play Safe initiative, $40 million in funding was allotted for medical research, primarily dedicated to neuroscience. The NFL assembled a Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) comprising leading independent experts, doctors, scientists and clinicians to develop and lead a clear process to identify and support compelling proposals for scientific research. The SAB is chaired by Peter Chiarelli, U.S. Army General (Retired), former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, and former CEO of One Mind, a brain research-related non-profit organization.

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