(Boston)—The Boston University CTE Center has redefined our understanding of the long-term effects of repetitive head impacts from sports like football, ice hockey, soccer and rugby. According to their study of hundreds of brain donors, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) might contribute to dementia, cognitive decline and neuropsychiatric dysfunction in people with a history of repetitive traumatic brain injuries. However, important knowledge gaps exist and many critical questions remain, including why CTE causes changes in thinking, memory, mood and behavior.
To close those gaps, Michael L. Alosco, PhD, associate professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), will lead a new National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded multiyear study called Project S.A.V.E., which stands for the Study of the Axonal and Vascular Effects from Repetitive Head Impacts.
Alosco, along with co-principal investigator Ann McKee, MD, the William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor of Neurology and Pathology at Boston University, has been awarded a three-year $2.3 million R01 grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to examine if repetitive head impacts from contact sports damage the white matter and vascular system of the brain to lead to long-term problems with cognitive function, mood and behavior, and dementia. Two additional years of funding are contingent on progress.
Project S.A.V.E. will recruit 200 former men and women athletes (50 years and older) from different contact sports, and 100 demographically-similar people with no history of repetitive head impacts or traumatic brain injury. Chris Nowinski, PhD and the Concussion Legacy Foundation will lead recruitment efforts. Participants will enroll into the NIA-funded Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (BU ADRC) to complete neurological, cognitive and neuropsychiatric exams, multimodal MRI, and blood draws. The information will be analyzed for white matter degeneration and cerebrovascular disease. The investigators will leverage tissue from several brain banks at BU, including the Veteran Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation (VA-BU-CLF) and the BU ADRC brain banks, to compare differences and similarities in the white matter and vasculature of deceased individuals with and without a history of repetitive head impacts and traumatic brain injury.
The researchers believe this work will lead to unprecedented data sets to increase understanding of the relationships between repetitive head impacts, white matter injury, and the risk for cognitive and neuropsychiatric impairment in contact sport athletes. “This study has the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the complex changes found in the brains of individuals exposed to repetitive head impacts, and open the door to new pathways to intervention and prevention for millions at risk,” said Alosco.
A part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the NIH is the largest biomedical research agency in the world.