Boxing Legend “Irish” Micky Ward to Donate Brain to Research at Boston University School of Medicine
(BOSTON) – The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) announced today “Irish” Micky Ward has pledged to donate his brain after his death to the CSTE Brain Donation Registry and will participate in CSTE longitudinal research. Ward’s amazing life story is told in the biopic “The Fighter,” opening in select cities Dec. 10 and nationwide Dec. 17, where Ward is played by Academy Award nominee Mark Wahlberg.
Over a 15-year professional career, Ward, now 45, had a record of 38 wins (27 KOs) with 13 losses as a junior welterweight. Ward gained widespread fame in his May 20, 2002, victory over Arturo Gatti, which went a full 10 rounds and was dubbed the “Fight of the Century” by boxing fans and writers. Round 9 was called “The Round of the Century” by George Foreman.
Ward joins more than 300 current and former athletes who have agreed to donate their brains to the CSTE, including NFL players like Matt Birk of the Baltimore Ravens and Lofa Tatupu of the Seattle Seahawks, Pro Football Hall of Famers Mike Haynes and Joe DeLamielleure, soccer stars Taylor Twellman and Cindy Parlow Cone, NHL star Keith Primeau and Olympic swimming gold medalist Jenny Thompson.These current and former athletes have made the decision to donate their brain and spinal cord tissue to the CSTE upon death so that researchers can better understand the effects of trauma on the brain and spinal cord. The CSTE is the leading research institution examining chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a progressive degenerative brain disease that causes problems with memory, impulse control, behavior and eventually leads to dementia. CTE is also known as dementia pugilistica or “Punch Drunk” disease due to its tendency to strike former boxers. CTE is believed to be caused by repetitive brain trauma, which includes both concussions and sub-concussive brain injuries
In addition, Ward is launching a speaking tour to raise money for the non-profit Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), a partner with the BU CSTE, to support brain trauma education and research. He will speak with SLI co-founders Robert Cantu, MD, clinical professor of neurosurgery at BUSM, and former World Wrestling Entertainment performer Chris Nowinski, also a co-director of the CSTE, to share his amazing story of perseverance and redemption, with the core message being to “Fight Smart.”
Ward said, “I regret not knowing of the long-term risks of repeated brain trauma while a boxer. I sparred as hard as I fought in prize fights – looking back, had I understood my risk for CTE, I would not have taken nearly as many head blows in practice, and may have adjusted my style in the ring. Working with Sports Legacy Institute and the BU research center, I hope to teach others to Fight Smart while we raise money to develop a cure for CTE.”
The brain donation registry is overseen by CSTE co-director Robert Stern, PhD, an associate professor of neurology at BUSM. The CSTE brain bank and pathology program is led by Ann McKee, MD, who has studied the brains of more than 50 former athletes, and found that 12 of 13 former NFL players and multiple boxers died while suffering from CTE. Although repetitive brain trauma likely leads to CTE, it is not yet clear what other risk factors (such as genetics) result in the development of the disease. CTE cannot yet be definitively diagnosed in living athletes. McKee, also an associate professor of neurology and pathology at BUSM, as well as director of neuropathology for the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Bedford VA Medical Center, has diagnosed CTE post-mortem in former NFL players John Grimsley, Tom McHale, Wally Hilgenberg, Eric Scoggins and Lou Creekmur, and was the first to diagnose CTE in a National Hockey League player, Reggie Fleming, a former college football player, Mike Borich, and a current college football player, University of Pennsylvania football co-captain Owen Thomas, who committed suicide at the age of 21.
CSTE co-director Nowinski added, “Micky Ward is doing a great service to athletes and soldiers by pledging to donate his brain. CTE is the only fully preventable cause of dementia. By studying large numbers of athletes throughout their lives, as well as examining brain tissue through our expanding CSTE brain bank, we will be able to determine the specific risk factors for CTE and potentially develop effective treatments. The research will foster education and allow meaningful guidelines to be implemented at all levels of athletic participation.”
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The Sports Legacy Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation founded in 2007 to advance the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups. SLI partnered with Boston University School of Medicine to form the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy in 2008. (www.sportslegacy.org)
The CSTE (www.bu.edu/cste/) was founded in 2008 and is the leading center in the world studying the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma in sports and the military. The CSTE was created as a collaboration between Boston University (BU), Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Co-directors of the BU CSTE include Robert Cantu, MD, a clinical professor of neurosurgery at BUSM; Ann McKee, MD, an associate professor of neurology and pathology at BUSM; Chris Nowinski; and Robert Stern, PhD, an associate professor of neurology at BUSM. The mission of the CSTE is to conduct state-of-the-art research of CTE, including its neuropathology and pathogenesis, the clinical presentation, biomarkers, and course, the genetics and other risk factors for CTE, and ways of preventing and treating this cause of dementia. The BU CSTE has received grants from the National Institute on Aging and the National Operating Committee on Standards in Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), and has received an unrestricted gift from the NFL.
CTE, originally referred to as “dementia pugilistica” because it was believed to only affect boxers, is a progressive brain disease believed to be caused by repetitive trauma to the brain, including concussions or subconcussive blows. It is characterized by deposits of an abnormal protein called tau in the form of neurofibrillary tangles, glial tangles, and neuropil threads throughout the brain, and, in some cases, the presence of another protein – associated with motor neuron disease – known as TDP-43. These abnormal proteins are associated with the impaired functioning and eventual death of brain cells. Early on, CTE sufferers may display symptoms such as memory impairment, emotional instability, erratic behavior, depression, and problems with impulse control. CTE may eventually progress to full-blown dementia. Although similar to Alzheimer’s disease, CTE is pathologically distinct, and it is the only known preventable cause of dementia.
CSTE co-directors Cantu, McKee, Nowinski, and Stern serve on the NFL Players Association Mackey/White Traumatic Brain Injury Committee, which includes, and is chaired by, CSTE registry member Sean Morey. In addition, Cantu serves as a senior advisor to the newly created NFL Head, Neck and Spine Committee.