Bellator MMA, Golden Boy Promotions, Top Rank Boxing and Ultimate Fighting Championship
Leaders Support Study Dedicated to Understanding Effects of Repeated Head Trauma in Fighters
Washington, Feb. 4, 2014: Though fierce competitors in the ring, four professional fighting organizations have put aside their long-standing rivalries to ensure research continues in a landmark study for professional fighters at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.
Boxing entities Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Boxing and mixed martial arts programs Ultimate Fighting Championship and Viacom's Bellator MMA and GLORY kickboxing have collaboratively committed $600,000 to help continue Cleveland Clinic's Professional Fighters Brain Health Study.
Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and John McCain (R-AZ) showed their support for the study by joining executives from Cleveland Clinic and the fighting organizations at the announcement. Sen. Reid was an amateur boxer in his youth, and Sen. McCain boxed at the U.S. Naval Academy and has been involved in legislation related to boxing since the mid-1990s. In 2012, the Senators together introduced legislation that created the United States Boxing Commission to oversee boxing matches around the country, administer and enforce federal laws on boxing, and fight conflicts of interest within the sport.
"As a former boxer, I know first-hand the toll that a fighter's body takes when he or she is in the ring," said Sen. Reid. "I want to thank Cleveland Clinic and the leaders of the four fighting organizations for bringing awareness to this important issue facing professional sports today."
The four sporting powerhouses came together to assist in funding the study, which is now in its third year at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. The study, which launched in April 2011, is focused on developing methods to detect the earliest and most subtle signs of brain injury in those exposed to head trauma, as well as determining which individuals may be more likely to develop chronic neurological disorders. While it is still in the early stages, researchers are confident the findings will benefit the safety and health of professional fighters. This information could also be applied to other athletes, members of the military and civilians who may experience head trauma.
"I appreciate the fact that top boxing and mixed martial-arts organizations have joined together to directly support the Cleveland Clinic's Professional Fighters Brain Health Study," said Sen. McCain. "The willingness of these organizations to support research into the effects of contact sports on brain health indicates their willingness to take very seriously the welfare of their boxers and fighters and demonstrates that they recognize how crucial fighter safety is to the long-term viability of their sports. I am hopeful that their funding for this study will advance our understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of brain trauma and support similar research efforts going well beyond the ring."
"This gift is significant on many levels, but to see these organizations come together to continue this important work confirms that what we're doing at the center is important to the future of fighting," said Larry Ruvo, Chairman of Keep Memory Alive and Senior Managing Director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada.
To date, the study has enrolled nearly 400 active and retired fighters with the goal of evaluating 625 by its completion. Participation is completely voluntary, and fighters in the study receive free, ongoing assessments of their brain health and brain function, including MRI scans. Individual tests will be repeated annually for at least four years.
"Cleveland Clinic initiated this pioneering study in hopes of answering some key questions about the impact of head trauma, and the professional fighter community has welcomed our effort from the start," said Toby Cosgrove, M.D., President and CEO of Cleveland Clinic. "We're committed to continuing this important research, and it is inspiring to see so many others in our side of the ring."
Studies suggest a percentage of professional fighters have a higher risk of developing long-term conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), depression and other neurological and neuropsychiatric problems, often at a young age. Currently, there is no way to determine if a fighter has sustained cumulative brain damage from head trauma; the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is working toward identifying risk factors in these individuals.
Researchers measure changes in brain volume, nerve fiber injury and connectivity, and blood flow via MRI scans. Any changes seen on the participant's MRI will be correlated with their performance on assessments of cognition, behavior, balance and speech. For fighters who demonstrate a relationship between MRI findings and clinical decline, researchers hope to determine whether there are other factors such as genetics, lifestyle characteristics or the amount or type of exposure to head trauma that make them more susceptible to injury.
Preliminary results from the study have already been published or presented at a number of national meetings. Among the promising findings, the study detected changes in the volume of specific brain regions. The connections between certain areas of the brain were detected by MRI scanning in some individuals within as little as a one-year period, suggesting that MRI measures may turn out to be a useful method of tracking brain changes over time in those exposed to head trauma.
Moreover, the study found that exposure to head trauma – using the Composite Index, a formula that includes number of fights, years of fighting and fights per year – correlates with brain volume and cognitive performance. Those with a higher score on the Composite Index are more likely to score lower on cognitive testing. Pending validation over time, this may be a screening tool to identify fighters at higher risk of brain injury.
"We have made great progress in the study so far, and we are continuing to work toward understanding why certain individuals sustain long-term brain injury from repeated head trauma and how we can detect changes early to protect those individuals," said Charles Bernick, M.D., Associate Medical Director at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and principle investigator on the study. "With the support of the fighting community, our goal is to use this information to improve safety in these sports for generations to come."
The collaborative gift announced today from the fighting organizations, combined with funds from the Helen and Augustine P. Rapone Research Fund at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, will provide the necessary support to continue the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study for another year.
For more information on this trial and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, call 855-LOU-RUVO (1-855-568-7886), visit www.clevelandclinic.org/fighterstudy or email firstname.lastname@example.org.