Collisions in Motion: The Fatal Flaw

FRESNO, Calif.

A former pro athlete and a team of experts say repetitive head trauma may be linked to a disease that is similar to ALS…maybe even worse.

You saw Chris Harvard's work as a pro wrestler, and you saw the work he did on the college gridiron. However, he never saw the head shot that ended his career.

His real name is Chris Nowinski, and he's suffered six concussions in all. He teamed up with the Boston University School of Medicine to ID head trauma's deepest impact.

"I had headaches for five years and memory problems for a year-and-a-half," Nowinski told Ivanhoe.

Lab work on the brains of deceased athletes reveals new information on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Doctors say it's caused by repetitive trauma like concussions, and symptoms include memory loss and impulse control issues. But here's the big news…

"CTE is another cause of dementia; it's another brain disease like Alzheimer's," Robert Stern, Ph.D., from Boston University School of Medicine, told Ivanhoe.

Post-mortem brain scans of former linebacker John Grimsley show he suffered nine concussions. They show buildup of a harmful protein called tau.

"It starts kind of clumping together and develops into these tangled fibers," Dr. Stern explained.

That protein triggers brain cell death and dementia.

Big news to the 50,000 child athletes diagnosed with concussions each year. This work may help doctors unravel the mystery of Lou Gehrig's disease, too.

"A bunch of athletes that had developed ALS clinically had essentially CTE that had gone in their spine," Nowinski said.

Not all head traumas mean CTE. Right now, the only way to detect CTE is to dissect the brain after death. Still, researchers are hoping to find a way to diagnose the disease during life. Additional investigations include whether some people are genetically predisposed to developing CTE.

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marsha Hitchcock at

Nathan Bliss
Boston Medical Center/Boston University School of Medicine Public Relations Associate

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