Researchers in Australia have begun an ambitious task to learn more about the long-term impacts of head injuries suffered by athletes. This week, the Australian Sports Brain Bank was launched in Sydney, and experts are encouraging players who have participated in all levels of sport - whether or not they've had a head injury - to donate their brains to the cause after they die.
The Brain Bank has been set up to investigate links between concussion, head injuries and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. It is a neurodegenerative disease found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
The Australian study is being supported by American researchers, who set up a similar brain bank a decade ago.
Dr. Chris Nowinski, head of the Boston-based Concussion Legacy Foundation which has examined the brains of deceased National Football League players, says the presence of CTE among them is pervasive.
“Any contact sport where you receive repetitive brain trauma puts you at risk for this disease. We do not know at what risk but we have seen CTE in 110 of the first 111 players that we have studied, which has really surprised us.”
Nowinski believes energy from blows to the head during competition causes brain tissue to move. Symptoms of CTE include depression, aggression and memory loss, and can take years or decades to appear.
The cause of CTE has yet to be established, but the disease has prompted a class action lawsuit in the U.S.
Australia’s Brain Bank is a joint venture between Sydney University and the city’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. It hopes to obtain 500 brains over the next 10 years.