BU team ties brain damage, football

Boston University researchers are hopeful that Owen Thomas’ tragic suicide could prevent future football players from suffering similar fates. The Penn football player’s parents donated his brain to BU’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy after their son hanged himself five months ago.

Dr. Robert Stern’s team recently released findings that Thomas had mild stages of degenerative brain disease caused by repetitive concussions and/or sub-concussive brain injuries — despite concussion-free medical records. It marks the first case in an active college football player.

“It was a very courageous thing for the parents to want to come forth and let people … know about this tragic situation and the findings from our group,” Stern said. “Hopefully from this there will be increased awareness and increased research.”

The BU team found beginning stages of the disease in a high school player’s brain last year, but Thomas is the youngest person they’ve found with a mild case.  

“Seeing it in someone so young does give us pause, because it tells us the disease actually begins early in some people and also gives us a tremendous amount of info to help guide our research,” Stern said. “Until now we really didn’t know when the disease could actually start.” 


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