News

    Fighting Their Way to Brain Disease?

    Ongoing study examines head trauma among boxers and mixed martial artists and when brain damage begins.
    Ongoing study examines head trauma among boxers and mixed martial artists and when brain damage begins.
    Joe DeCapua

    It’s long been known that boxers and other athletes can develop brain damage from repeated blows to the head. Now a new study is trying to find out when that damage begins and how long it takes for symptoms to appear. Researchers say it could help make contact sports safer.

    The ongoing Professional Fighters Brain Health Study follows so-called combat sports. Participants currently include 109 boxers and mixed martial artists with an average age of 29.

    Study author Dr. Charles Bernick says combat sports have long been linked to degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

    When and how

    “Nobody really knows how one goes from having repetitive blows to the head to developing long-term brain disease. So how that actually happens,” he said.

    Bernick is associate director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. He said the study focuses on three things.

    “One is to see if we can detect these earliest or most subtle changes of brain injury occurring in athletes or individuals exposed to head trauma - then to be able to identify those that may be developing this disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy. And then finally determine what factors make one individual more likely to develop it than others because certainly not all fighters or athletes exposed to head trauma develop this,” he said.

    Bernick said the more head trauma a person has the greater the risk of developing CTE, also known as dementia pugilistica.

    “What we don’t know is if there’s a certain point of no return. The brain can tolerate so much and then if you go beyond that that’s when you’re going to run into this development of a disease process. So one question is to look at that and the second is: are changes occurring in the brain in these athletes even though they’re not having any symptoms?”

    Taking a toll

    The more than 100 boxers and mixed martial artists were divided into three groups, based on the number of years they’ve fought.

    Bernick said, “So those that fought less than six years. Those that fought six to 12 years and then those that fought more than 12 years. And then we looked at each group top see if there was any relationship between the number of fights these guys had and changes either in the size of certain areas of the brain or their performance on tests of reaction time, memory and so on.”

    The first year of the study yielded results regarding brain size.

    “In those that have fought for greater than six years, the more fights they had there seemed to be shrinkage in certain areas of the brain that we can measure. However, it was only in those that had fought more than 12 years that we started to see the performance changes. This would suggest two things. One, again, there may be a threshold. That is, the brain may be able to accommodate a certain amount of head trauma and then if you exceed that you actually can start seeing shrinkage occur in the brain. But that occurs actually many years before you even start having symptoms,” he said.

    Researchers used brain scan images, taken with an MRI machine, to study two areas of the brain. One is the hippocampus, which is associated with memory. The other is the thalamus. It’s associated with relaying sensory and motor signals and helps regulate sleep and alertness among other functions.

    “Indeed those areas were shrinking even very early on when these guys are active fighters,” he said.

    Bernick said it’s possible other parts of the brain were affected, but they were not studied. He likened the consistency of the brain to gelatin and says brain fibers can be twisted and whipped around in head trauma.

    The reason boxers and mixed martial artists are being examined has to do with the study’s location.

    “We’re in Las Vegas. So Las Vegas is the fight capital of the world. A lot of fighters train here and of course we have a lot of fights here,” he said.

    He added the study has the full support of the fight industry, as well as promoters and the Nevada Athletic Commission.

    “We hope to give regulatory agencies, the athletic commissions --could be another sport, NFL, hockey -- objective guidelines on how they protect their athletes. So in other words, if a 35-year-old fighter comes and wants to be licensed in Nevada how does our Athletic Commission decide if he should? There really are no objective markers,” he said.

    While the overall study results have been released, all the fighters were given their individual results in confidence. The study will continue to follow them.

    Bernick said the goal is not to eliminate any sports, but to help make conditions safer for athletes. For example, the boxers could take fewer fights per year. The results can be applied in other fields as well. Bernick says they may be used to help the many head trauma victims in the military.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.