BU/VA CTE researcher Ann McKee receives $10 million NIH grant

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Focus on identifying risks for developing AD, ADRD and CTE after repeat hits and traumatic brain injury

(Boston)-Ann McKee, MD, Chief of Neuropathology for VA Boston Healthcare System and Director of the BU CTE Center, has been awarded a five-year, $10 million U54 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the impact of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and repetitive head impacts (RHI) on Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), Alzheimer’s disease-related dementias (ADRD) and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and resulting clinical syndromes.

Along with fellow Boston University investigators Michael Alosco, PhD; Victor Alvarez, MD; Jonathan Cherry, PhD; Jaeyoon Chung, PhD; Brigid Dwyer, MD; Lindsay Farrer, PhD; Lee Goldstein MD, PhD; Bertrand Huber MD, PhD; Douglas Katz, MD; Ronald Killiany PhD; Michael McClean ScD; Jesse Mez, MD; Mian Asim, MD; Joseph Palmisano, MPH; Robert Stern PhD; Yorghos Tripodis, PhD; and Jennifer Weuve, MPH, ScD, McKee will collaborate with investigators at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) to characterize brain donors with and without a history of RHI and/or TBI and determine their neuropathological and clinical phenotypes.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) increases the risk for developing dementia and parkinsonism later in life. Exposure to RHI from contact sports and military service is also associated with a tau-based neurodegeneration, CTE. TBI and RHI have not been well studied in brain bank cohorts, subsequently, the contribution of TBI and RHI to AD, ADRD, CTE and other pathologies is not known. “We are going to identify the neuropathological features of TBI-related neurodegeneration and the association of post-RHI and TBI neuropathologies with the clinical phenotypes of dementia and parkinsonism,” explained McKee, the William Fairfield Warren Distinguished Professor of neurology and pathology at BU.

McKee’s research focuses on the long-term effects of concussion, subconcussion and blast injury in contact sports athletes and military veterans, including CTE. Her groundbreaking work on CTE shifted scientific thought regarding repetitive head trauma by demonstrating that repetitive “mild” head trauma could trigger CTE, a devastating and progressive neurodegenerative disease. She created the UNITE (Veterans Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation (VA-BU-CLF)) brain bank, the world’s largest repository of brains from individuals exposed to traumatic brain injuries (over 850) and neuropathologically confirmed CTE (over 450). McKee and her team have published over 70 percent of the world’s cases of CTE and have led the field in research on post-traumatic neurodegeneration with multiple high-profile publications in major journals.

For the new U54, the infrastructure of McKee’s previous UO1 on Understanding Neurologic Injury and Traumatic Encephalopathy (UNITE) study will be used to harmonize brain banks at Boston University, VA Boston and ISMMS to develop the largest cohort with RHI and TBI and lay the foundation for future strategies to intervene, prevent and treat trauma-related neurodegeneration and CTE.

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