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The Krembil Neuroscience Centre’s Canadian Concussion Centre (CCC) announced this month that the analysis of the brain of former NHL player Todd Ewen did not show signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a neurodegenerative brain disorder that has been linked to multiple concussions.
“These results indicate that in some athletes, multiple concussions do not lead to the development of CTE,” said Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, a neuropathologist with the CCC research team who conducted the autopsy. “Our findings continue to show that concussions can affect the brain in different ways. This underlines the need to not only continue this research, but also be cautious about drawing any definitive conclusions about CTE until we have more data.”
Ewen was a 49-year-old retired professional hockey player who played for several teams in the NHL and sustained multiple concussions during his professional and amateur career. Although he suffered from memory loss, chronic body pain, diabetes and undiagnosed depression prior to his death – some symptoms which are known to result from having sustained repeated head injury – his brain showed no sign of CTE or any other neurodegenerative disease.
“Every time it was announced that a fellow player had CTE, Todd would say: ‘If they had CTE, I know I have CTE.’ He was terrified by the thought of a future living with a degenerative disease that could rob him of his quality of life, and cause him to be a burden to his family,” says Kelli Ewen, Todd’s widow who donated her husband’s brain to the CCC for analysis.
“We were very surprised by the results as we were sure Todd must have had CTE,” adds Mrs. Ewen. “We hope that anyone suffering from the effects of concussion takes heart that their symptoms are not an automatic diagnosis of CTE. Depression coupled with other disorders can have many of the same symptoms as CTE.”
The results support the need for more concussion research to determine the prevalence of CTE in the brains of former athletes. The Ewen analysis brings the total of brains analyzed to 20, with roughly half showing signs of CTE or the presence of another neurodegenerative disease.
“Although it is encouraging to see that not all athletes who sustain concussions will develop CTE, we still need to better understand this disease and the effects of concussions on the brain in order to figure out how to identify those who will develop CTE as well as help people like Todd Ewen who struggle with symptoms from head injuries,” says Dr. Carmela Tartaglia, a neurologist with the KNC’s Memory Clinic who is also a member of the CCC research team. “We are very grateful to the Ewen family for making this important contribution to research as it’s through these analyses that we hope to find answers.”
The CCC aims to recruit a total of 50 brain donations to its ongoing research project and welcomes the commitment of donation from current or former professional athletes. All donor information is kept private, except when the player or family consents to release their name.
For more information about brain donation, please visit www.solveconcussions.ca
The CCC, founded by Dr. Charles Tator, is one of few research projects in the world to examine the entire spectrum of concussion disorders from acute injury to chronic illness including brain degeneration. The team harnesses the expertise of several scientists and clinicians in brain injuries, imaging, genetics, neuropsychology and clinical care at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre and other brain research facilities to further our understanding of this common brain injury.
Bengals Player, NFLPA President Eric Winston and Former Chicago Bears Star Gary Fencik Pledge Brains to Concussion and CTE Research
Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle and NFL Players Association President Eric Winston has joined former Chicago Bears safety and 1985 Super Bowl champion Gary Fencik in pledging his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for concussion and CTE research as part of the organization’s ‘My Legacy’ campaign.
My Legacy was launched to recognize individuals who have made a lasting contribution to research and awareness of concussions and CTE. Winston and Fencik encourage others to participate through research (brain donation), financial contributions to research and education programs, and raising awareness on social media using the hashtag #MyLegacy.
“We want to recognize individuals whose actions to address the scourge of concussion and CTE have made a tangible, lasting difference for the next generation,” said Concussion Legacy Foundation Executive Director Chris Nowinski. “Through My Legacy, we want to honor all of those stories, and also encourage others to make a difference and create their own legacy.”
“Ultimately, I want to be a part of the process that helps the next generation of athletes at all levels have a greater understanding of what science says about head trauma,” said Winston, who has vocally advocated for improved player safety in the NFL. “Hopefully, it will lead to better treatment and prevention.”
In 1985 Fencik played for the legendary Bears defense alongside strong safety Dave Duerson, who committed suicide in 2011 and left a note asking for his brain to be studied. Concussion Legacy Foundation collaborators at Boston University and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs diagnosed Duerson with CTE.
“As you progress into your career and toward retirement, you start to think more about making a contribution back. I would hope this will be part of my legacy and my contribution back,” Fencik said. “I think there is still a lot of awareness that needs to be done. I don’t know how many players are really aware that they can make this contribution.”
The Concussion Legacy Foundation collaborates with Boston University (BU) and the VA Boston Healthcare System on the BU-VA-CLF brain bank, where donated brains are studied. In 2015, donated brains surpassed 300, and 88 of 92 former NFL players have tested positive for CTE, which at this time can only be diagnosed after death. Last month, BU CTE Program Director Ann McKee, MD, published a groundbreaking paper in Acta Neuropathologica that for the first time confirmed as a unique disease that pathognomonic signature in the brain can be definitively diagnosed by neuropathological examination of brain tissue. A consensus panel of expert neuropathologists developed the NINDS CTE criteria, an advance that represents a milestone for CTE research and lays the foundation for future studies defining the clinical symptoms, genetic risk factors and therapeutic strategies for CTE. The National Institutes of Health, US Department of Veterans Affairs, and US Department of Defense have provided over $20 million to CTE research studies led by Boston University CTE Program investigators.
Over the last week, it was reported that Kosta Karageorge, the Ohio State defensive lineman who committed suicide last fall, did not have CTE.
In a statement, the Franklin County Coroner’s office said: “There is no evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy but there are nonspecific findings consistent with subacute to remote prior concussive injury.”
Karageorge had texted his mom just before his death about the debilitating effect that a concussion or multiple concussion was having on him.
Karageorge’s teammate Michael Bennett, a defensive tackle, told the wire service at the time that “we knew he had a lot of concussions and we were worried about that. But we didn’t see any side effects of it.”