Bonus: How prevalent is CTE?

In 2017, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study by a group from Boston University — including Ann McKee — that really caught the attention of the football world.

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In that study of 111 brains of deceased NFL players, 110 were diagnosed with the degenerative brain disease, CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

The paper was alarming, of course, but it also brought backlash, with some pointing out the study focused on a biased sample of brains. Of course the authors of the paper acknowledged this themselves, and urged caution at interpreting the results, but that didn’t stop critics from attempting to brush off the study altogether. The funny thing was, at first nobody really worked to try to quantify what the study could mean.

That’s where Zach Binney and Kathleen Bachynski enter the picture. Binney is a sports injury epidemiologist at Emory University and a consultant to pro and college sports teams and leagues. Bachynski is a post-doctoral fellow at NYU-Langone Health, where she researches and teaches on sports safety and public health. She is also working on a book about the history of debate over the safety of youth tackle football.

Binney and Bachynski took that Boston University study and turned it into a math problem. It was simple, and it was pretty genius. They have released the results in the journal “Neurology,” and last week they were nice enough to speak with me about.

It was an interesting and enlightening chat and really puts the importance of that Boston U study into perspective. Here is my conversation with Zach Binney and Kathleen Bachynski.

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Study links:

— Estimating the prevalence at death of CTE neuropathology among professional football players (Zach Binney and Kathleen Bachynski, “Neurology”) Read

— Clinicopathological evaluation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in players of American football (Jesse Mez, Ann McKee, Daniel H. Daneshvar, Patrick T. Kiernan, et al, “JAMA”) Read

— Neurodegenerative causes of death among retired National Football League players (EJ Lehman, MJ Hein, SL Baron, CM Gersic, “NCBI”) Read

— Association between playing American football in the National football League and long-term mortality (Atheendar S. Venkataramani, Maheer Gandhavadi, Anupam B. Jena, “JAMA”) Read