Ann McKee, MD, chief of neuropathology at VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the BU CTE Center and Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, has been awarded $258,000 from the Mac Parkman Foundation to study white matter changes in the brains of young contact sport athletes.
McKee, the William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor of Neurology and Pathology, will collaborate with John Crary, MD, PhD, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, to investigate white matter alterations and their contribution to behavior and mood disturbances in the brains of 150 deceased contact sports athletes between the ages of 17-45.
Through this project, the McKee/Crary team will apply a novel machine learning computational approach to digital pathology images from young athletes who experienced repetitive head impacts (RHI) and compare findings to those of young individuals not exposed to RHI.
“This study,” says McKee, “will help identify important white matter alterations in young contact sport athletes, their relationship to neuropsychiatric symptoms, and help find interventions to improve the safety of young contact sport athletes.”
The Mac Parkman Foundation was established by the family of Mac Parkman, a football player and wrestler who died by suicide at age 17 in 2020. After his death, his family donated his brain for study by McKee, who confirmed brain pathology consistent with her findings in older athletes. Mac’s father, Bruce Parkman, wants other parents to know the risks their children face by participating in sports that involve repetitive hits to the head. “Our family didn’t know that these sports were literally killing Mac,” says Parkman. “We’re supporting this research so others don’t need to suffer the way he did – and so other families have information about the risks of certain sports. We truly believe this research will save lives.”