Medical Minute 2-10: Collisions in Motion: The Fatal Flaw of Traumatic Brain Injuries

By: Ramin Khalili Email
By: Ramin Khalili Email

You saw Chris Harvard's work as a pro wrestler, and you saw the work he did on the college gridiron. But he never saw the head shot that ended his career.

His real name is Chris Nowinski and he's suffered six concussions in all. He teamed up with the Boston University School of Medicine to ID head trauma's deepest impact.

"I had headaches for five years and memory problems for a year-and-a-half."

Lab work on the brains of deceased athletes reveals new info on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Doctors say it's caused by repetitive trauma like concussions, and symptoms include memory loss and impulse control issues. But here's the big news:

"C-T-E is another cause of dementia; it's another brain disease like Alzheimer's," said Robert Stern, Ph.D. Boston University School of Medicine.

Post-mortem brain scans of former linebacker John Grimsley, who suffered nine concussions, show buildup of a harmful protein called Tau.

"It starts kind of clumping together and develops into these tangled fibers," said Robert Stern, Ph.D.

That protein triggers brain cell death and dementia. Big news to the 50,000 child athletes diagnosed with concussions each year. This work may help doctors unravel the mystery of Lou Gehrig's disease, too.

"A bunch of athletes that had developed A-L-S clinically had essentially C-T-E that had gone in their spine," said Chris Nowinski Former Professional Wrestler.

Not all head traumas mean CTE. Good news for Chris, whose run from the ring to the lab won't be done without more answers.

TBIs occur when one suffers from a trauma extreme enough to cause brain damage. This often occurs as head collision with an object or skull penetration from a bullet or a sharp object, which is able to enter into brain tissue. The severity of the symptoms is determined by both the severity of the injury and the amount of brain damage suffered, ranging anywhere from mild to severe.

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