Retired NHL Star Keith Primeau to Donate Brain Upon Death to Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy

in Health & Medicine, News Releases
April 3rd, 2009

Contact: Gina M. Digravio, 617-638-8491 | gina.digravio@bmc.org

(Boston) – Former National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star Keith Primeau announced he is joining more than 100 former professional, college and high school athletes who have committed to donate their brains upon death to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM). Additionly, Primeau is asking all current and retired NHL players to join him in pledging brain donations to medical research at CSTE to help solve the sports concussion crisis.

Primeau is the fourth NHL player to pledge to donate his brain. He joins current Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Noah Welch, retired 12-year veteran Steve Heinze, whose career was shortened by concussions, and retired eight-year veteran Ryan VandenBussche. Primeau, a 15-year NHL veteran with the Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers, was forced to retire in 2006 due to the lingering effects of multiple concussions in 2006. A two-time All-Star and Philadelphia Flyers captain, Primeau was one of the most respected and skilled players in the game, amassing 266 goals and 619 points over his NHL career.

“Considering my sport and personal experience with concussions, I am acutely aware that my brain tissue will be scientifically valuable in advancing understanding of the long-term consequences of trauma. I hope to bring urgently needed awareness and recognition to the consequences of repetitive head trauma, especially Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. We owe it to the kids playing sports.” said Primeau, now a youth hockey coach who mandates concussion education for coaches and athletes in his program.

By joining the CSTE Living Donor Registry, Primeau will inform his family of his wishes to donate his brain for neuropathological analysis at CSTE upon his passing, as well as participate in an annual interview about his symptoms, head trauma history and medical status.

Co-director of the CSTE Robert Stern, PhD, said, “CTE is the only fully preventable cause of dementia. By studying large numbers of athletes’ brain tissue through our expanding CSTE brain bank and through the longitudinal examination of our brain donors throughout their lives, we will be able to determine the specific risk factors for CTE.”

“CTE has been described for approximately 80 years. Initially referred to as dementia pugilistica because of the boxers that were originally studied, CTE is now being seen in other athletes,” said Ann McKee, MD, CSTE co-director and a leading neuropathologist who specializes in degenerative brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

CTE is characterized by the build-up of a toxic protein called tau in the form of neurofibrillary tangles (NFTs) and neuropil threads (NTs) throughout the brain. The abnormal protein initially impairs the normal functioning of the brain and eventually kills brain cells. Initially CTE sufferers may display clinical symptoms such as memory impairment, emotional instability, erratic behavior, depression and problems with impulse control. CTE eventually progresses to full-blown dementia. Although similar to Alzheimer’s disease, CTE is a distinct neurological disorder.

Keith Primeau hopes his decision to donate his brain to CSTE will inspire other hockey players to do the same. “We need to do this research as quickly as possible,” he said. “Many former athletes are suffering from CTE and are in urgent need of treatment or a cure. There is no easier or more important way to support this research than to give a piece of yourself. Former NHL players serious about learning more about this program can email me directly at kprimeau@sportslegacy.org.”

Sports Legacy institute (SLI) president and CSTE co-director Chris Nowinski said, “We appreciate the growing support from NHL players and are grateful for their choice to give back to past, current, and future generations of athletes. We hope this research will allow us to find a way to play what appears to be an increasingly dangerous game more safely.”

CSTE is a collaboration between SLI and BUSM. The CSTE was created in 2008 as a collaborative venture between Boston University School of Medicine and the non-profit Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), founded by Nowinski and concussion expert Robert Cantu, MD, CSTE co-director. The mission of the CSTE is to conduct state-of-the-art research of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, including its neuropathology and pathogenesis, the clinical presentation and course, the genetics and other risk factors for CTE, and ways of preventing this cause of dementia. For more information go to http://www.bu.edu/alzresearch/cste/ or www.sportslegacy.org

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