WWE donates $1.2 million to SLI for Boston University CTE Treatment Program

WWE donates $1.2 million to SLI for Boston University CTE Treatment Program

The Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (BU CSTE) announced the launch of a new research program aimed at developing a treatment for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). The study will be funded across a three-year period by a $1.2 million gift from WWE to the non-profit Sports Legacy Institute (SLI), a founding partner of the BU CSTE.

Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed postmortem. The BU CSTE is leading the way in learning how to diagnose CTE in living people, a critical step in launching clinical trials in humans. The NIH-funded DETECT study, which stands for Diagnosing and Evaluating Traumatic Encephalopathy using Clinical Tests, led by BU CSTE investigator Robert Stern, Ph.D, professor of neurology and neurosurgery, is studying 100 former NFL players using a battery of tests to identify biomarkers for the disease. 

The WWE gift will initially fund a new investigation to screen potential CTE treatments using a preclinical model. If a viable treatment is identified, and the biomarker study is successful, it is hoped that it will open the door to human studies

This program will be led by Ann McKee, M.D., professor at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), director of the Neuropathology Service for VA New England Healthcare System and co-director of the BU CSTE, and Lee Goldstein, M.D., Ph.D, a BU CSTE investigator and associate professor at Boston University's School of Medicine and College of Engineering. In addition, McKee is leading a biomarker study funded by the Department of Veteran Affairs aimed at identifying CTE in military veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

CTE has been diagnosed in patients exposed to repeated brain trauma, including athletes who participate in contact sports, as well as military veterans and victims of abuse.

As part of its comprehensive Talent Wellness Program, WWE has been a leader in concussion prevention, education and management, with mandatory ImPACT™ testing for all talent. ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) is the first, most-widely used and most scientifically validated computerized concussion evaluation system. In 2008, WWE was the first major sports-entertainment organization to include ImPACT testing as part of its Talent Wellness Program, where every one of its talent undergoes baseline neurocognitive testing. In addition, WWE consistently updates its safety policies as new research becomes available. WWE's Talent Wellness Program, which has been in place since 2006, also includes cardiovascular testing, medical and wellness staffing, annual physicals, drug testing and health care referrals.

"WWE is proud to help advance this critical research to help anyone at risk of suffering CTE," EVP Talent and Live Events for WWE Paul Levesque said. "WWE has been, and will continue to be, very proactive on taking measures to ensure the health and wellness of our talent."

"We appreciate the generosity of WWE," Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Sports Legacy Institute Christopher Nowinski said. "I enjoyed my time at WWE, and I am excited to reunite with the organization on this important cause that will benefit a lot of people we both care about."

SLI was founded in 2007 by Robert Cantu, M.D., and Nowinski, a former WWE Superstar, who was forced to retire in 2003 due to the effects of a lifetime of brain trauma sustained in football, soccer and WWE. Both serve as co-directors of the BU CSTE.

CTE is a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated brain trauma, including concussions and multiple subconcussive exposures such as those in contact sports and military combat, and appears to be slowly progressive in most individuals. In early stages, CTE is characterized by the presence of abnormal deposits of a protein called tau in the form of neurofibrillary tangles, glial tangles and neuropil threads throughout the brain. These tau lesions eventually lead to brain cell death. The vast majority of individuals pathologically diagnosed with CTE showed clinical symptoms involving cognitive, behavioral or mood impairments which worsened over time. 

"We've come a long way in five years; this funding will further accelerate the pace of our research and hasten the development of methods to detect CTE during life as well as identify treatments to slow or stop its progression," McKee said.

More than 600 living athletes have committed to donate their brain to the CSTE after death, including dozens of current and former WWE Superstars.

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