With all the controversy surrounding the link between traumatic brain injury and professional football, the National Football League (NFL) has been adopting certain initiatives over the last couple of years in an attempt to reassure the country that their national pastime is becoming safer for kids and athletes. Together with USA Football—youth football’s governing body—the league endorsed a new educational program called “Heads Up Football” back in 2015. The program involves a series of in-person and online courses for coaches to learn new safety procedures and proper tackling drills to reduce the risk of head injury. The NFL and USA Football said that the program reduced the number of concussions by an estimated 30 percent and injuries by 76 percent.
Earlier this month, the senior vice president of the National Football League’s health and safety policy spoke at a hearing in Washington, D.C., where he was asked if there is a link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Jeff Miller replied, “The answer to that is certainly, yes,” moving the ball down the field in a longtime debate among independent researchers, former athletes, and the NFL.
Alongside Miller stood Dana Alliance member Ann McKee, M.D., whose latest study was just referenced in a story on CTE in the New York Times on Sunday, March 27. At the hearing, McKee presented findings from her ongoing research on the relationships between traumatic brain injury, neurodegenerative disease, and contact sports. As director of the Brain Bank for Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, she has been making headlines over the past several years for revealing that “deceased athletes, including at least 90 former NFL players, were found to have had [CTE].”
It 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 Around 2009, the National Football League (NFL) started catching heat for its outdated concussion policies.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
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.
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.
How 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.