Concussion Movie Reignites Important Issue

football CTEIt is fairly remarkable that Concussion, the movie, exists. Ten years ago, the public did not know much about concussions and other forms of brain trauma. People weren’t watching football games and thinking about the long-term neurological effects of the brutal hits. Around 2009, the National Football League (NFL) started catching heat for its outdated concussion policies. In 2013, a book and corresponding documentary that tackled the issue, League of Denial, were released. And now, at the end of 2015, Hollywood has brought us a major motion picture that stars Will Smith as a neuropathologist fighting to reveal the truth about head trauma in football players.

The film’s mere existence will hopefully mean even more public discussion of an important issue. It is based on a wonderfully researched 2009 GQ feature, which later became a book, by Jeanne Marie Laskas. She profiles Bennet Omalu, who was working as a forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh in 2002, when he performed the autopsy of former Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Mike Webster. Omalu’s initial evaluation of Webster’s brain showed no abnormalities. Continue reading

From the Archives: Striking Back at Stroke

StrikingBackStroke_featWhen she was 43, journalist and former nurse Cleo Hutton had a severe stroke. Suddenly unable to speak, understand, or even walk, Hutton struggled first to survive and then to regain her physical skills and her independence. Her book Striking Back at Stroke: A Doctor-Patient Journal combines entries from her personal journal with medical and scientific commentary by Louis R. Caplan, an expert in US stroke medicine and a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives. Dana Press published the book in 2003 (11 years after her stroke), and we ran an excerpt of it in our Cerebrum journal, “The War of Rehabilitation.” Here’s a bit from Hutton’s journal:

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Epilepsy Awareness Month

While epilepsy ranks fourth in most common neurological disorders, there are still common misconceptions about the condition, which can develop at any age. In the US alone, 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy at some point in their lifetime.

Photo courtesy of Roberto Tuchman

Photo courtesy of Roberto Tuchman

With November being “National Epilepsy Awareness Month,” we spoke to Roberto Tuchman, M.D., who is the director of autism and neurodevelopment programs at Miami Children’s Hospital. Tuchman founded the hospital’s Dan Marino Center for children with developmental disorders and gives lectures around the world on the topics of epilepsy, autism, and learning disorders. He is also a Dana Alliance member.

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Is Professional Football Safe?

“New Data Shows 96% of NFL Players Test Positive for Brain Disease” declares the headline of a recent and alarming article from TIME magazine. Surely, if this is the case, why would anyone want to pursue a career in the sport? Well, it turns out, it may not be the case, said Alvaro Pascual-Leone of Harvard University in last night’s International Neuroethics Society event about safety in professional football.

“Much of the information we have today is based on woefully underpowered studies,” he explained. “If you want to make sound inferences of risk you need about 70 percent of the reachable public,“ which in this case would be 10,000 former NFL players (of the approximately 15,000 alive today). To put things into perspective, the study mentioned above only studied the brains of 91 former players.

INS15

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Neuroethics Seminar Series: Seeing Consciousness

shutterstock_221470261How is new technology helping us gain a better understanding of consciousness in patients with severe brain damage? If a patient is unable to communicate or even blink, does that mean he or she is completely unaware? At what point should the intentions stated in a living will be determined by the patient’s family or surrogate?

These questions were among the issues discussed at Harvard Medical School’s most recent neuroethics seminar, titled “Seeing Consciousness: The Promise and Perils of Brain Imaging in Disorders of Consciousness.” The school’s  Center for Bioethics invited Joseph Giacino, Ph.D., director of Rehabilitation Neuropsychology at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital; Joseph Fins, M.D., chief of the Division of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College; and James Bernat, M.D., Louis and Ruth Frank Professor of Neuroscience at The Dartmouth Institute to share the stage and give a brief talk for its Neuroethics Seminar Series.

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