Researchers at the BU CTE Center will team up with the Laboratory for Science and Health in Artistic Performance at Ohio University to study the brains of stunt performers (Stunt Performance Research Investigating Neurological Trauma or SPRINT) from North America. Currently, about 9,000 stunt performers are employed in motion picture, television and other entertainment productions. While there is virtually no available literature, it is believed that approximately 80 percent of these performers have experienced one or more serious head impacts.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease associated with a history of repetitive head impacts, including those sustained in contact and collision sports such as American football and ice hockey, as well as through military service and domestic violence.
At this time, CTE can only be diagnosed after death by neuropathological examination of brain tissue. Stunt performer donor brains will be analyzed at the Understanding Neurologic Injury and Traumatic Encephalopathy (UNITE) Brain Bank at the Boston University CTE Center.
“We are honored to join forces with BU to study the long-term health and wellness of stunt performers who are crucial to the success of motion picture and television productions,” said Jeffrey A. Russell, PhD, AT, FIADMS, associate professor of athletic training and director of Science and Health in Artistic Performance at Ohio University. “They should receive the same type of attention, healthcare and research that sports athletes receive,” he adds.
BU CTE Center researchers suspect that stunt performers are at high risk for CTE because they are exposed to repeated trauma throughout their stunt performing careers. “Our research team is firmly committed to optimizing the brain health and well-being of stunt performers”, explains Ann McKee, MD, chief of neuropathology at VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the BU CTE Center.
Despite the popularity of stunt sequences and action films, scientific research dedicated to understanding the effects of stunt-related concussions and sub-concussive impacts is nonexistent. “Participating in this research provides an opportunity for current performers to play an important role in the reduction of risk and treatment of head injuries for future stunt performing generations,” said Lori Stewart, stuntwoman and Health and Safety Performer Advocate for the Union of British Columbia Performers.
With this combined effort, BU CTE Center and Laboratory for Science and Health in Artistic Performance at Ohio University researchers hope to gather essential information to improve safety in stunt performance, preserve the long-term brain health of stunt performers, and advocate for specialized healthcare provision to these industrial athletes. This clearly is a natural research partnership. Russell, as an athletic trainer, understands the critical need for proper care of concussed individuals and in response has assembled a specialized research group, while McKee and her colleagues are the world leaders in investigating one of the serious consequences of head trauma.