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SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . Respected Broadcaster Bob Costas: Football “Destroys People’s Brains”

Respected Broadcaster Bob Costas: Football “Destroys People’s Brains”

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Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Bob Costas Sportcaster 2017

Bob Costas – Sportscaster

Emmy Award-winning and respected sports broadcaster Bob Costas, speaking as part of a panel at a symposium at the University of Maryland, stated that there are irreversible “cracks in the foundation” of the “juggernaut” and “cash machine” of American football that will eventually lead to a decrease in football’s stature.

He cited the work of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who found a degenerative brain disease in the brain of a deceased former Hall-of-Fame player of American football. He described the disease and named it chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). (Dr. Omalu’s story and the negative reaction of the National Football League are depicted in the movie “Concussion.” Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu.)

Dr. Bennet Omalu & Actor, Will Smith at opening of “Concussion”

The research at Boston University has shown that CTE is not uncommon in the autopsied brains of former players of American football. Their recent publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association has shown that CTE can be detected in the brains of not only professional football players, but also in the brains of college and high school players.

Costas said “The reality is that this game destroys people’s brains.” Concern is growing. Some players have retired early. Participation in youth tackle football leagues is declining, as parents struggle with the rapidly emerging and compelling evidence. Costas also said “… if I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year-old son, I would not let him play football.” Costas’ comments were supported Football Playerby those of ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser, who said that football is going the way of boxing. (Full story – listen to Costas and Kornheiser in the second video – minutes 24:03-29:50.)

 

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SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . High School Football Game Forfeited After Nine Head Injuries

High School Football Game Forfeited After Nine Head Injuries

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Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

football-teamA high school football team from Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, forfeited its game after nine players left the game with possible head injuries. The coach took the precaution of having all players checked at the hospital. Before going to hospital, four players had already displayed symptoms of having a serious concussion (nausea, vomiting), and they still showed symptoms two days later when the article was written.

Illegal hits were not the problem, but the violence of football became even more obvious when the forfeiting team was clearly outmatched by its opponent.  The score was 35-0 about halfway through the game.

football13It is now known that players of US and Canadian football have a high risk of developing a brain injury, and the problem is particularly serious for youth, with their still-developing brains.  Concussions are the most obvious brain injury, but the multiple subconcussive hits common in US and Canadian football can also lead to brain damage, which may not become apparent for several years.  A highly-cited research paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that the degenerative brain disease CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) was found in a low but significant fraction (21%) of players who only played football through high school. CTE was more commonly found (>90%) in the autopsied brains of players who played professionally or only through college. Even with a possible bias in the brains studied, the findings are alarming. As a result of the new knowledge, some players are retiring early (1,2), and parents are becoming concerned. (1. Full story and 2. my radio interview of Cyndy Feasel, Mary Seau, and Debra Pyka, all of whom lost a loved one to football)

onair

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SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . Drug Reduces Aggressive Behavior in TBI Survivors

Drug Reduces Aggressive Behavior in TBI Survivors

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Donna O’Donnell Figurski

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Emotional changes after traumatic brain injury (TBI) affect quality of life for survivors and are difficult to treat. Aggressive behavior often adversely impacts family and friends. The drug Amantadine, an antiviral no longer commonly used, was found to reduce aggressive behavior in TBI survivors.th-1

The discovery was made by Dr. Flora Hammond, chair of the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the Indiana University School of Medicine and reported in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. Amantadine was on Dr. Hammond’s radar because it was found to improve cognition in patients with Parkinson’s Disease who were taking the drug as therapy for the flu virus.

pills-clip-art-free-1685197After other drugs failed on a colleague who was found to have a minor brain injury, Dr. Hammond tried Amantadine.  Dr. Hammond’s colleague said, “The effects were immediate and just amazing. … It calms down part of your brain and gives you a moment to pause and reflect.” Dr. Hammond has used Amantadine on other patients with success.  She says, “It helps you reclaim your identity a bit. … And to get that back helps you get your quality of life back too.” (Full story)

 

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SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . NFL Rookie Retires

NFL Rookie Retires
(This news underscores the previous NewsBit.)

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Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

johnson_combine Clemson Safety Jadar Johnson was undrafted in the 2017 draft. As a Free Agent, though, he was signed by the New York Giants of the NFL (National Football League). Many thought he was a diamond-in-the-rough. DiamondJadar himself was excited and said he would do “whatever” it takes to become part of the team that the Giants field on Sundays. But, before he played a single regular-season game, he abruptly retired. His agent’s statement said “… and he values his health. …” Some say that Jadar retired because he became aware of the research on NFL brains recently published in the CTEJournal of the American Medical Association. That article showed that 99% of autopsied NFL brains (110/111) had the devastating and contact-sport-specific brain disease CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

 

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SPEAK OUT! News Bit . . . . . Football, Brain Injury & Kids

Football, Brain Injury & Kids

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by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

newsboy-thIs American football a dying sport? With football’s prominence in American culture, it seems safe to assume no one would predict that its days are numbered. But, there is a growing undercurrent that may eventually lead to the demise of football as we know it. There is more and more evidence that the constant subconcussive hits experienced by football players lead to a high risk of the brain disease CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). CTE can lead to early dementia, football12depression, suicidal thoughts, or problems with cognition, memory, or impulsive behavior.

Recently published by the Journal of the American Medical Association is more evidence of the enormous risk of developing CTE by playing American football. (CTE can at present only be confirmed upon studying brain tissue at autopsy, although research is being directed to finding a test that can detect CTE in the brains of living players.) A study of 202 brains of former football players was done by researchers at the VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University. They found CTE in 87% of all the brains studied. Of the 110 brains of former professional players in the NFL (National Football League, the premier professional football league in the US), 109 (99%) showed CTE. Playing only college football did not significantly reduce the risk of having CTE, which was found in 91% of the brains of former college players. Playing less football did seem to lower the risk. Only 27% of the brains of former players who played through high school, but no further, showed evidence of CTE. Also, the severity of CTE was probably less with less playing time.

brain4The results have important implications for players. Many players feel they’ve been left ignorant of the risks of brain injury by the NFL, or worse, assured by the league that there is minimal risk. [Some players have quit or retired early (1, 2). Recently, a class-action lawsuit about concussions brought by former players against the NFL was settled for $1 billion.] The NFL has argued, and most players and fans who know about CTE believe, that the brains being studied are biased toward CTE because the autopsied brains in large part are from players already suspected of having a brain injury. Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University researcher who has examined many of the brains, has stated that the results are staggering even for a biased sample (go to 1:35:58 in the video). She has stated, “It is no longer debatable whether or not there is a problem in football; there is a problem.”

Evidence of any CTE in high school football players is particularly disturbing (go to 1:29:08 in the video). Parents have taken note. Even though the NFL is actively promoting football directly to children, enrollment in youth football leagues is significantly down. Dr. Bennet Omalu, who discovered CTE by studying the brain of Mike Webster, the football-teamfamous Pittsburgh Steeler Center, wrote an Op-Ed in the New York Times titled “Don’t Let Kids Play Football.” During my radio interview of George Visger, a former lineman for the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers who had to quit the game because of a brain injury, he speculated that the preeminence of football in American society will disappear because the NFL’s talent pool will dry up. He speculates that the cost of liability insurance will be too high for youth football leagues to pay (go to 30 minutes into my interview of him).

There is no doubt that American football is exciting to watch, and there are many benefits to playing such a demanding team sport. But, difficult as it is to believe, it seems likely that the high risk of brain injury will eventually end the game.

 

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SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . Repair of Brain Injury in Mice by Transplanted Neurons

Repair of Brain Injury in Mice by Transplanted Neurons

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by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

Newsboy thThis is an incredible finding with strong clinical implications! There already is evidence that transplanted neurons can survive and grow in the brain. The newly introduced neurons can form synapses, and they sometimes improve function by partially compensating for a damaged brain circuit. What was not known was whether the original damage could be repaired. Now scientists have shown in a well-studied mouse model of the brain that transplanted neurons can replace the damaged neurons, make the appropriate connections, and repair the damage.ridkk855t

The research was done in Germany by scientists at the Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich in Planegg, the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology in Martinsried, the Helmholtz Center Munich, and the German Research Center for Environmental Health in Neuherberg. Neurons in the visual cortex of the adult mouse brain were killed, then immature (embryonic) mouse neurons from the cerebral cortex were transplanted into the damaged area of the adult mouse brain. What the scientists found was remarkable. The transplanted neurons developed into mature cells – the same kind as the killed cells, and the new cells replaced the killed cells to give normal function. The process took several months.th-1

The visual cortex is one of the best studied areas of the mouse brain. The structures and connections of the nerve cells are known. So, the scientists, using sophisticated tools, were able to propose that the transplanted neurons used the same developmental signals that were used by the original cells. The transplanted immature neurons developed the proper structures, targeted the same areas of the brain, and made the same connections throughout the brain as did the original cells. The transplanted cells repaired the damaged circuits and allowed the visual cortex to function normally again.gray-mouse-hi-1

This basic research in mice has astonishing clinical implications for humans. (I wrote before about how the mouse is a good first model for the human.) Lost or damaged neurons can be replaced with incredible precision. That means there may be a future treatment, maybe even a cure, for all kinds of damage to the brain, including that which occurs from acquired and traumatic brain injuries, stroke, and neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s Disease. (Full story)

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SPEAK OUT! NewsBit . . . . . . Repair of Neural Circuits in Stroke-damaged Mouse Brains

SPEAK OUT! NewsBit

Repair of Neural Circuits in Stroke-damaged Mouse Brains

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Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

 

newsboy-thBasic research on the repair of damaged mouse brains has again produced a potential breakthrough for human therapy. The research may accelerate our ability to repair damaged human brains. A trial study for using this therapy in humans is now being designed.

I’ve already written about the extraordinary promise of cell therapy in eliminating or greatly reducing the effects of brain damage. Much of this promise has to do with the discovery of stem cells, which have the stunning ability to develop into virtually any kind of cell. (The previous NewsBit, however, showed that scientists found a way to cause a common cell type to develop into functional neurons directly without going through a stem-cell stage.) In a study earlier this year, scientists showed that stem cells surgically implanted into damaged human brains reduced the severity of symptoms. But in that study, the scientists were surprised to find that the added stem cells themselves did not become new neurons and form new circuits, but they somehow revved up the brain’s natural ability to heal itself.animal-cell-hi

Now scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) with help from scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found a way to activate the implanted stem cells so they develop into neurons and become part of new neural circuits. The direct involvement of the added stem cells resulted in enhanced repair and a much greater loss of symptoms. One NIH scientist said, “If the therapy works in humans, it could markedly accelerate the recovery of these patients.”

CellScientists had previously shown that an FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-approved reagent, the engineered protein 3K3A-APC, caused stem cells in culture to become neurons. The USC scientists wanted to see if 3K3A-APC would help the recovery of a brain-injured animal. The model used for brain damage was mice that were induced to have a stroke. The scientists implanted human stem cells and then treated the mice with 3K3A-APC or a placebo (mock-3K3A-APC). Mice that were treated with stem cells + 3K3A-APC did markedly better (some were almost normal) in tests of sensory perception and motor skills than did mice that were treated with stem cells + the placebo. Unlike the earlier study in which the added stem cells did not become neurons, these stem cells did become neurons if the mouse had been treated with 3K3A-APC.

ScientistThe human stem cells not only became neurons, but they also formed normal connections with mouse neurons. Because the implanted cells were human, the scientists were able to use a human-specific toxin to kill only the implanted cells (the mouse cells were resistant to the toxin). When scientists killed the new neurons, the mice lost the signs of recovery. The scientists concluded that 3K3A-APC caused the cells to develop into neurons that then formed functional neural circuits, ultimately leading to recovery.Brain Cell

USC physician-scientist Berislav Zlokovic, M.D., Ph.D., who directed the research, said, “When you give these mice 3K3A-APC, it works much better than stem cells alone. We showed that 3K3A-APC helps the cells convert into neurons and make structural and functional connections with the host’s nervous system.” (Full story)

 

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