Research

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The effect of repeated head trauma on long term brain health has come under increasing scrutiny as some aging athletes in contact sports are being identified with progressive neurocognitive deficits. Our emphasis is on early identification of neurocognitive decline and prediction of long-term neurological consequences. Why is it that with similar levels of trauma, some individuals are more at risk than others? This is a key question. Answers have implications for many types head injury in athletics, civilian injury, and injury sustained in military combat.

Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is providing leading-edge services to athletes, both in a clinical evaluation and treatment and in a research study capacity. Since 2011, active and retired professional fighters (boxers, mixed martial arts) and retired professional football players have been pursuing testing, diagnosis, treatment and research with the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, the only entity in the country to conduct a longitudinal study of hundreds of fighters.

Current Studies

The Professional Fighters Brain Health Study examines the brain function of active and retired boxers and mixed martial arts fighters. This longitudinal study focuses on early identification of neurocognitive decline and prediction of long-term neurological consequences. Physicians seek relationships between risk factors for cognitive decline and evidence of brain dysfunction, trying to understand why fighters with similar exposure are affected differently. Why do a few experience a decline in brain health, yet many do not?

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Programs

The Retired Athletes Clinic provides care to retired professional athletes from all contact sports who complain of declining memory and brain function, with careful consideration of the relationship between cumulative athletics injuries and brain health later in life.

To learn more, please visit our Cleveland Clinic Nevada site:

In some athletes, repeated head trauma may result in long-term neurological injury.

An important gap in understanding the long-term consequences of head trauma are the risk factors, early changes, and means of predicting who will get them. Why is it that after similar exposure to repeated head trauma, many fighters remain unaffected, yet some individuals experience cognitive decline? Presently, researchers lack biomarkers or clinical indicators that can predict if a combatant is in danger of developing permanent brain damage or is already on a trajectory of cognitive decline.

At Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, our goal is early identification of neurocognitive decline and prediction of long-term neurological consequences.

Study Participation»

The Professional Fighters Brain Health Study at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health:

  • examines the cumulative effects of repetitive head injuries to the brain in a group of professional combatants (boxing and mixed martial arts)
  • detects the earliest and most subtle signs of brain injury using MRI imaging techniques and other clinical measures
  • determines what factors make an individual more likely to develop chronic neurological disorders (e.g. dementia, parkinsonism)
  • identifies those individuals who are progressing to long term neurological disease.

The study cohort consists of three groups:

  • active professional fighters (boxers or mixed martial art combatants)
  • retired professional fighters (with a minimum of 10 professional fights)
  • an age- and education-matched control group of non-fighters

Participants in each group are followed on a yearly basis for at least four years. Each evaluation consists of:

  • a brain MRI scan
  • computerized testing of cognitive function
  • speech sample analysis
  • blood sample for genetic testing
  • questionnaires regarding mood and impulsivity
  • demographic and prior sports and medical history
  • a neurological examination

Download a brochure with more information on the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study.

Professional Fighters Brain Health Study

To contact us, please send us an email at brainhealth@ccf.org or call 702.675.5237.

Study Findings»

Preliminary Findings: Professional Fighters Brain Health study

A total of 625 subjects are expected to participate in the Professional Fighters Brain Health study over the four-year course. Since the study’s inception in April 2011, more than 400 fighters have been enrolled. In a presentation at the annual American Academy of Neurology meeting, Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health reported that:

  • Across an average of all data collected, there is a relationship between number of fights and decline in the volume of certain areas of the brain
  • Changes in brain volume are not seen until after approximately five years of professional fighting and not all fighters exhibit such changes
  • The number of professional fights and knock outs are correlated with loss of fibers that course across the brain, as well as the connectivity between different areas of the brain as seen on MRI brain imaging. The implications of these findings are currently unknown; only long-term follow-up will determine if they predict neurological decline.

Through the longitudinal Professional Fighters Brain Health study, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health strives to:

  • Focus on early identification of neurocognitive decline and prediction of long-term neurological consequences.
  • Continue progressing towards its goal of enrolling at least 625 professional fighters over a four year period
  • Continue its ongoing collection of longitudinal data to confirm the study’s preliminary findings.
  • Extend the study as long as possible, recognizing that the study becomes richer the longer its data collection continues.
  • Share information with individual athletes so they can better understand risk and its varying impact on the brain health of professional fighters.
  • Continue its support of professional fighting by offering the fighting community an enhanced understanding of risk over longitudinal exposure.

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702.675.5237 Professional Fighters Brain Health Study

702.483.6000 Retired Athletes Clinic

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