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At the October Lancet Neurology Conference in London, Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health’s Head of Neuropsychology, Sarah Banks, PhD, ABPP/CN, presented important new findings from the center’s Professional Fighters’ Brain Health Study.
Since 2011, 700 boxers and mixed martial arts fighters have undergone neurological evaluations in the Professional Fighters’ Brain Health Study to identify the earliest signs of brain injury in those exposed to head trauma.
To learn more about possible abnormalities in fighters’ brains, position emission tomography (PET) scans using a chemical marker called FDDNP were performed on 34 fighters from the study. Developed to detect brain abnormalities in Alzheimer’s disease, FDDNP PET scans can identify proteins thought to accumulate in the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases. Buildup of the tau protein is associated with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease found in athletes engaged in contact sports.
Previous studies of FDDNP PET imaging in professional football players showed elevated levels of FDDNP (which indicates the presence of proteins) in the amygdala and subcortical regions of the brain, which are responsible for mood, fear, stress and cognition.
“We wanted to see how the brains of the fighters in our study compared to football players,” says Dr. Banks.
The study group of 34 fighters ranged in age from 19 to 66, representing a wide span of experience, from fighters just beginning their careers to retired fighters who had sustained many blows to the head. Elevated FDDNP levels were present mainly in older fighters in the same areas of the brain as seen before in football players.
To determine whether the presence of proteins is due to aging or head trauma, FDDNP PET scans will be performed for comparison on a group of older men who are non-athletes.
“We are trying to discover whether fighting leads to an unusual buildup of tau in the brain and whether fighters are at a higher risk of developing CTE,” says Dr. Banks.
The Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health presentation at the Lancet conference, a major international gathering of neurologists, attracted considerable attention.
“We are the only ones who are studying the fighter population, and our peers at other academic health centers are very interested in our findings,” says Dr. Banks.
For information on all clinical research studies at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, visit keepmemoryalive.org/advancing_research/clinical_trials/trials.
Photo: Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health’s Head of Neuropsychology, Sarah Banks, PhD, ABPP/CN, presents new findings at the October Lancet Neurology Conference in London.Back to All