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MRI Will Assess Fighting’s Toll On The Brain

July 19, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Neuroradiology
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Wanted: participants for clinical research study involving MRI. Must engage in “professional fighting (unarmed combat).”

Yes, Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas is planning a clinical trial to determine whether MRI, along with other tests, can detect subtle changes in the brain health of professional fighters that correlate with impaired thinking and functioning.

The center is working with the Nevada Athletic Commission (which regulates only “all contests or exhibitions of unarmed combat,” as its Web page puts it; its mandate does not extend to other types of athletic competition—or, for that matter, to armed combat). Other partners are two major boxing promoters (Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Boxing) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (the major promoter of mixed martial arts bouts).

“It has been known for decades in the boxing community that recurrent blows to the head can result in permanent brain damage,” said Charles Bernick, MD, associate medical director at the center and principal investigator for the study. Dr. Bernick was quoted in a news release announcing the study.

“Many notable fighters have developed striking neurological conditions at relatively young ages,” Dr. Bernick continued. “Our goal is to help the next generation of fighters by improving fighting safety.” Specifically, he said:

New technologies, such as advanced MRI scanning, may offer us the ability to determine who is at greatest risk to develop permanent brain injury and detect it at its earliest stages.

Researchers have enrolled about 20 fighters so far, with a goal of 625. Participants will be tested once a year for four years. MRI will show changes in brain volume, scarring, and blood flow. Test results will be confidential and will not be released to any other person or organization without the participant’s written permission.

Bill D. Brady, chairman of the Nevada Athletic Commission, said:

We encourage all fighters to participate for their health and for the future of the sport. Together with Cleveland Clinic and Nevada’s professional fighters, we can improve brain health awareness within the fighting community.

Apparently, the tests will not attempt to determine why anyone would voluntarily embark on a career that involves repeated, deliberate blows to the head. Perhaps that’s one of those questions that scientific research just isn’t capable of answering.

Related seminar: Neuroradiology Review


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