Ann McKee on Boxing, Football, and the Brain (Leiter Lecture) [#mlanet15]


Part 4 of a series of blogposts I wrote for the recent Annual Meeting of the Medical Library Association.


Was it just yesterday? I was sitting in the Leiter Lecture listening to the incredible Dr. Ann McKee present about past, present, and future trends in concussion research. I had been reading about her work in the indie-published award-winning book from 2014, Conquering Concussion, and was very interested in learning more. By the end of the talk, I wasn’t the only person who had tweeted out that I had tears in my eyes.

The story she told that touched me the most was of the athlete who had been diagnosed with ALS, but who phoned her, suspecting that what he really had was, “what you’re studying, Doc.” That would be Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). Basically, CTE is what happens when you bounce someone’s brain around on a regular basis, and they never really have a chance to heal. Some folk with that history develop CTE, some don’t, and Dr. McKee would really like to know why. To do this research, people or families donate their brains after they die. This athlete had met with her a few times, and there was a relationship, a sense of trust between them. Then the call came (I’m paraphrasing here, working from memory), “Hey, Doc, we’re having a big party! All my family and friends, a big blast. I’ve decided to go off respiratory support, and my docs don’t think I’ll make it through the weekend.” He died the next day. Someone went to pick up his brain, and when they ran the tests, he was right — he did have CTE.

I shared that story later that day in the airport waiting room with a man whose wife and son both had a history of severe concussions. I also shared that Dr. McKee’s insights on a possible genetic connection (for why some folk never develop CTE) and what people can do NOW to help prevent the long term:

* EXERCISE
* Diet (rich in antioxidants)
* Sleep
* Avoid conditions or triggers that cause inflammation in your body

Dr. McKee is also working on finding biomarkers so CTE can be diagnosed before people die, and needs donations of NORMAL brains to be able to identify the differences. A friend of mine asked me on Twitter what qualifies as ‘normal,’ and for this, let’s just say it would be someone who doesn’t have a history of multiple concussions, or subconcussions. There was a lot more, but I’ll limit myself to sharing the Concussion Checklist she recommended, and the Storify, if you want more. There are several interviews with her and other articles about her, if you want to dig in a little more deeply.

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