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Insightful Profile On Brain Collector Chris Nowinski

Business Week/Bloomberg has done a fascinating story on a man with a quest: Chris Nowinski, a researcher who is creating what he calls the first U.S. brain bank dedicated to the study of head trauma.

Nowinski, co-founder of the Boston University School of Medicine Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, is collecting the brains of athletes. He is gathering physical proof for his belief that permanent brain damage is pervasive among athletes who suffer concussions.

So Nowinksi has taken on what some might consider the unenviable task of calling up the survivors of athletes who have died within 48 hours of their deaths to request their brains. He also solicits athletes who are now alive, getting them to agreed to donate their brains to his research. So far 270 have signed up.

Nowinski himself is a colorful character, with a personal stake in his research. Harvard-educated, Nowinski also wrestled for World Wrestling Entertainment. He’s an athlete who sustained two concussions while playing college football and four concussions as a pro wrestler, and he fears their permanent impact on his brain.

His brain bank now has the brains of 23 athletes. Why would a relative give up their loved one’s brain for Nowinski’s research? The decision was easy for Caroline Creekmur, the widow of NFL Hall of Famer Lou Creekmur. During his career his sustained 16 concussions, and after he retired he would break into rages and lose his memory.

Caroline tells Business Week/Bloomberg, “My husband died a hard death, and I did not know what was wrong. I wanted to know why this happened.”

This is really important stuff. It is from autopsy that we have learned the overwhelming majority of what we know about neuropathology. What is needed is to broaden this bank to include far more of those who have suffered concussions, particularly in accidents. While they never get the publicity that athlete’s concussions get, they affect far more people, far more profoundly. Through the study of the 40 year old accident victims brain, that we might unravel the deep mystery of why some people have such devastating results from TBI.

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