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Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health Boston University Host Inaugural Conference

National, International Experts Gather to Further Define Diagnosis, Symptoms of Disease Found in Athletes, Military Personnel and Others with Repetitive Brain Trauma

September 19, 2012

Las Vegas – Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE) are hosting the inaugural Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Conference Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 in Las Vegas. The conference brings together medical experts, athletes, military officials and policy makers to further advance the treatment, research and understanding of a debilitating disease that currently can only be diagnosed with certainty after death and has no available treatment. 

Boston University and Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health are collaborating on CTE research and leading experts from each center are meeting for two days to help foster communication and scientific cooperation, as well as help shape future goals for CTE research.

United States Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA, will address conference attendees about brain trauma as a public health issue and the role of CTE research in setting public health policy for the nation.

“Given the huge number of individuals exposed to brain trauma, ranging from athletes involved in contact sports, to those engaged in the military, it becomes imperative that we understand how and why repetitive blows to the head lead to long-term degenerative brain disease,” said Charles Bernick, MD, co-chair of the conference and associate medical director, Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. “Chronic traumatic encephalopathy has emerged as a public health problem, yet little is known about the true incidence and prevalence of the disease in our society. Our hope is that this conference will encourage the discussion needed to further advance research and knowledge of CTE.”

CTE is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head. Although similar to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases, it is a unique disease. CTE has been found in amateur and professional athletes participating in boxing, football, hockey and wrestling. Additionally, military personnel exposed to blasts or concussive injuries have been diagnosed with the disease. 

CTE occurs when brain trauma triggers progressive degeneration of brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal protein called tau. These changes in the brain can begin months, years or even decades after the last brain trauma or the end of an active athletic career. Once brain degeneration begins, individuals often show signs of memory loss, aggression, confusion, impulse control problems, impaired judgment, depression and suicidality. Ultimately, CTE may lead to dementia.

CTE has gained more national attention recently due to the deaths of professional athletes diagnosed with the disease at autopsy, primarily by BU researcher Ann McKee, MD, who will be speaking at the conference. The goals of this inaugural conference include establishing recommendations for a clinical diagnosis of CTE, delineating a course for research in the field that would accelerate the understanding and treatment of the disease and to develop a firm definition of what constitutes CTE. The hope is that if clinical criteria can be more clearly defined, and objective methods of diagnosing the disease during life can be developed, clinicians may be able to recognize CTE in its earliest stages and prevention and treatment trials can be developed.

During the conference, speakers from Cleveland Clinic, the BU CSTE and other prestigious international institutions will explore the underlying causes of CTE, the spread of the disease in the brain, challenges of diagnosing the disease during life, advances in brain trauma assessment technology, suicide as a result of CTE and more. 

“There has been tremendous growth in public awareness and culture change resulting from the initial autopsy findings of CTE in athletes. However, the scientific study of CTE remains in its infancy,” said Robert Stern, Ph D, conference co-chair and professor of neurology and neurosurgery at BU School of Medicine. “There are superb researchers from across the U.S. and elsewhere now investigating many critical aspects of this disease. We hope that this inaugural CTE Conference will facilitate communication and collaboration among researchers in order to move the field forward as quickly as possible.”

Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health has been studying the impact of brain trauma on professional fighters since April 2011 as part of the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study. The study uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain, along with other tests, to detect subtle changes in brain health that correlate with impaired thinking and functioning. The BU CSTE was formed in 2008 and has the world’s largest CTE brain bank. Ongoing clinical studies include a longitudinal telephone-based registry involving hundreds of athletes and military veterans, as well a CTE biomarker investigation funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Registration for the event is closed, but members of the press interested in attending any portion of the event should contact Maureen Nagg, or (702) 331-7054.  

About Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health provides state-of-the-art care for cognitive disorders and for the family members of those who suffer from them. The physicians and staff at the Center for Brain Health continuously work toward the development of early diagnosis and the advancement of knowledge concerning treatment of cognitive disorders, which could one day delay or prevent their onset. Patients receive expert diagnosis and treatment at the Center for Brain Health, which offers a multidisciplinary patient-focused approach to diagnosis and treatment, promoting collaboration across all care providers, offering patients a complete continuum of care and infusing education and research into all that it does. The facility, designed by Frank Gehry, houses clinical space, a diagnostic center, neuroimaging rooms, physician offices, laboratories devoted to clinical research and the Keep Memory Alive Event Center. For more information, visit

About Boston University School of Medicine’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy

The CSTE was created in 2008 as a collaborative venture between Boston University’s School of Medicine, the Sports Legacy Institute (SLI) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  The mission of the CSTE is to conduct state-of-the-art research of CTE, including its neuropathology and pathogenesis, clinical presentation, biomarkers, methods of diagnosing it during life, the genetics and other risk factors for CTE, and ways of preventing and treating this cause of dementia. Co-directors of the BU CSTE include Robert Cantu, MD, clinical professor of neurosurgery at BUSM; Ann McKee, MD, professor of neurology and pathology at BUSM and director of the VA CSTE Brain Bank; and Chris Nowinski. The BU CSTE has received grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Operating Committee on Standards in Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), and has received an unrestricted gift from the NFL. For more information, visit


Media Contact:

Maureen Nagg, 702.331.7054,