Former Oakland Raiders quarterback Ken “The Snake” Stabler died last July, and a report - released just prior to the Super Bowl - revealed that he had the concussion disease known as CTE.

The story did not have much shelf-life in the daily news cycle.

The reason the story did not get much play is for obvious reasons – these stories are a dime a dozen these days.

While we know that pro football players who played in the 1960s, ‘70s, ’80s and ’90s played a game that was amazingly dangerous to longterm brain health, we don’t yet know what the longterm effects are for MMA fighters. Dana White’s UFC is much safer than the original UFC was in the early 1990s, but we’re not at a point in time just yet that shows just how safe (or dangerous) the relatively new sport is.

A brain scanning device by a company called Neuronetrix recently tested an MMA novice, 22 UFC fighters and an NFL running back at Jackson-Wink (a noted MMA training academy) during two weeks of intense MMA training.

The results were stunning, according to Neuronetrix CEO K.C. Fadem.

“We expected to see a reduction in brain activity from the fighters,” Fadem told Metro. “But what we found were that all of these fighters actually had a super-human level of brain function [during a two-week training]. Basically, what we found was that your brain has to work really fast to keep someone from punching you in the face.”

Fadem and Neuronetrix typically collect data relating to Alzheimer’s disease and Fadem is encouraged that the findings in the MMA training could eventually lead to new exercises to help treat many brain diseases.

“I’m thinking that a way to treat Alzheimer’s patients might be to do some of this high intensity reaction training,” Fadem said.

As for the dangers of playing football vs. the dangers of caged fighting, Fadem hints at the idea that MMA is actually a safer sport. For instance, when an MMA fighter gets a concussion, he or she has weeks and often months to recover. Football players, meanwhile, are scrambling to get back on the field the very next week.

“The current standard of care from evaluating and treating a concussion is really ‘make sure they don’t get worse,’” Fadem said. “It’s very primitive. When someone sustains a concussion, the latest theory is that the brain takes a very long time to recover from it. A lot of athletes in a lot of different sports right now might not be giving their brains the necessary time to recover.

“UFC fighters go fight to fight and they’re very concerned about their own personal health,” Fadem continued. “These fighters actually want the tests. I’m not sure the owners in team sports, who have players under contract, want these tests. It’s not in the best interest of teams to do these tests. In the UFC it’s different. If I want to delay a fight another two months I can do that.”

 

Brain scanning / MMA documentary

Neuronetrix announced this week that its brain scanning device will be featured in a new documentary being produced by Todd Sampson for the Discovery Network.  The documentary follows extreme athlete, entrepreneur, and amateur neuroscientist, Todd Sampson, as he trains for a mixed-martial arts fight with a professional fighter from the Jackson-Wink MMA Training Academy.  As part of the preparation, Sampson, and other top fighters are having brain scans using COGNISION™, a patented, FDA approved device which records cognitive brainwave activity.  Sampson is interested in determining if there are any changes in his brain as a result of the pre-fight training.

Sampson, an award winning executive from Leo Burnett, has hosted and produced several documentary series focused on brain plasticity including Redesign My Brain on ABC Australia and Hack My Brain which airs on the Science Channel.  These series feature Sampson using modern neuroscience techniques to develop new cognitive skills and to adapt to complex and stressful situations such as skywalking between buildings 21 stories from the ground.

In the episode being filmed at Jackson-Wink, Sampson will undergo only two weeks of intensive training and then fight an experienced MMA fighter.  Before the training began, Neuronetrix tested Sampson, and 22 other fighters, including long-time UFC stars Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine and Diego “The Dream” Sanchez as well as former Welterweight Champion, Carlos Condit.  Neuronetrix also tested a professional NFL running back who was training at the facility.

Jackson-Wink MMA Training Academy is run by Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn who train many of the top fighters in MMA including current World Champ, Holly Holm and former World Champion, Jon Jones.  Their training academy is also used by other professional and Olympic athletes.  Both Jackson and Winkeljohn are leading advocates of athlete safety and are concerned about the potential long-term damaging cognitive effects of the sport.  By testing their athletes with the COGNISION™ System a cognitive baseline can be established and used to compare against if those athletes sustain a head injury during training camp or during a fight. 

“Developing a cognitive baseline when the athlete is healthy can help us protect the fighters and make sure they don’t do additional damage while their brain is still recovering from an injury sustained in the octagon.” said Winkeljohn/Jackson.

“Everyone is aware of the potential medical problems faced by athletes in contact spots.  Greg and Mike are addressing the issues head-on and their efforts will result in a safer sport and fewer long-term problems for their fighters,” said Fadem.  “The relationship we have developed at Jackson-Wink will help Neuronetrix’s efforts in bringing widespread brain testing to contact sports.” he said.  

Materials from a press release were used in this report