Robert Stern, PhD, professor of neurology, neurosurgery, and anatomy & neurobiology at BU School of Medicine as well as co-founder of BU’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, testified before the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging at the June 25 hearing, “State of Play: Brain Injuries and Diseases of Aging.”
Stern, who is also Director of the Clinical Core of the BU Alzheimer’s Disease Center, gave an overview of the long-term consequences of repetitive brain trauma in athletes, in particular, chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. CTE has been found in individuals, including youth, college, and professional contact sport athletes (including football, hockey, soccer, and rugby players), military service members exposed to blast trauma and other brain injuries, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma.
He explained that although little is known about CTE what studies have shown thus far is that, in some individuals, early repetitive brain trauma triggers events in the brain leading to progressive destruction of the brain tissue including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau, one of the abnormal proteins also seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
According to Stern, the ability to diagnose CTE during life is the next critical step in the study of CTE. He believes it will lead to the ability to answer important questions about this disease, such as: How common is CTE? What are the risk factors for CTE? Can it be prevented? How can we treat it? “At this point, we actually know very little about this disease, however one thing we do know about CTE is that every case of post-mortem diagnosed CTE has had one thing in common: a history of repetitive brain trauma,” Stern testified.