Bostonian of the Year: Ann McKee CTE Researcher


Ann McKee, MD, the Director of Neuropathology and the VA Boston and a Professor at the Boston University School of Medicine discovered CTE in the brain of Paul Pender, a boxer, in 2003. McKee had been less well-known than Bennett Omalu, MD in the early days of CTE research as she quietly pursued her work. In 2008, Dr. McKee teamed up with Chris Nowinski, a former Harvard athlete who turned professional wrestler and is now a health advocate. Nowinski brought Dr. McKee into contact with the families of deceased athletes whose brains were being donated for research.The pattern of tau deposits  now associated with CTE was seen in the brains of athletes who had been involved in contact sports. Most of McKee’s early subjects were former NFL players who had a constellation of symptoms including: depression, anxiety, impulsive behavior and memory loss. When McKee found CTE in the brain of an 18-year old high school athlete she became alarmed. Since that finding McKee and her colleagues found CTE in the brains of other athletes, like hockey players as well as in the brains of military personnel exposed to head trauma. Her research lead her to understand that subconcussive blows were “the real drivers” behind the development of CTE and made the disease more likely to occur.

Much like Omalu, McKee’s early work was the subject of much criticism and she encountered doubters at professional conferences and in the world of sports. Recently McKee’s published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that of 202 brains of former football players, 177 had CTE. Dr. McKee also served as the pathologist for the study of Aaron Hernandez’s brain. Hernandez, the former Patriot, was a convicted murderer serving a life sentence for killing his friend. Hernandez ended his life six months into his sentence. The autopsy revealed that Hernandez had advanced CTE. Certainly, Dr. McKee’s finding sheds light on the tragedy which brought Aaron Hernandez from a promising pro-football career to a life sentence for murder.

Dr. Ann McKee’s recognition is well-deserved and has been earned through hard work. Her current research into early biomarkers could identify CTE in the living and perhaps can prevent the disease in some athletes from experiencing the ravages it can cause. At NeuroNotes, we appreciate that Dr. Ann McKee’s work has been recognized.

Click here for the Boston Globe story or here to read the New York Times story on Aaron Hernandez’s brain. 

About Rolf Gainer Ph.D.

Dr. Rolf Gainer is the founder of the Neurologic Rehabilitation Institute at Brookhaven Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well as the Neurological Rehabilitation Institute of Ontario, in Toronto, Canada. Dr. Gainer is a psychologist with more than twenty-five years of experience in the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. Dr. Gainer has designed and operated innovative rehabilitation programs in the United States and Canada for individuals who have been regarded as difficult to serve. He is currently involved in conducting two outcome studies related to the long-term issues faced by individuals with brain injuries and a dual diagnosis. He has presented papers throughout the United States and Canada in many professional conferences and educational forums.

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