Stunt performers included in study of degenerative brain disease

Researchers have launched an initiative to include stunt performers in a study of the brain disease known as CTE. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Researchers have launched an initiative to include stunt performers in a study of the brain disease known as CTE. File photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Researchers at Boston and Ohio universities have launched a collaborative effort to include stunt performers at high risk of head injury in the study of a degenerative, incurable brain disease, known as CTE.

That's because stunt performers often get banged up in their work, and could be at high risk for the brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.


In North America, an estimated 9,000 stunt performers work in motion picture, television and other entertainment productions, the researchers said.

Despite lacking detailed data, they said that roughly 80% of these performers are thought to have experienced one or more serious head impacts.

Until now, researchers at Boston University's CTE Center have focused primarily on athletes and military personnel, trying to determine how the degenerative condition develops, what the risk factors are, how best to detect it and how best to prevent and treat it.


Under the new joint effort, Boston University's center plans to work with the Laboratory for Science and Health in Artistic Performance at Ohio University to extend the research and study the brains of stunt performers.

"Our research team is firmly committed to optimizing the brain health and well-being of stunt performers," Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology at VA Boston Healthcare System and director of Boston University's CTE Center, said in a news release.

Stunt performers "should receive the same type of attention, healthcare and research that sports athletes receive," Jeffrey A. Russell, associate professor of athletic training and director of Science and Health in Artistic Performance at Ohio University, said in the release.

Through the collaboration, the researchers said they "hope to gather essential information to improve safety in stunt performance, preserve the long-term brain health of stunt performers, and advocate for specialized healthcare provision to these industrial athletes."

A diagnosis of CTE can be made only by studying brain tissue via autopsy after a person's death, experts say.

Donor brains will be analyzed at the Understanding Neurologic Injury and Traumatic Encephalopathy Brain Bank at Boston University's CTE Center.

The researchers anticipate that stunt performers will want to participate, given that scientific research dedicated to understanding the effects of stunt-related concussions and sub-concussive impacts is, as they put it, "nonexistent."


According to the Mayo Clinic, CTE is the term used to describe incurable brain degeneration that's likely been caused by repeated head trauma. Symptoms may not occur until years or decades after such injuries.

CTE is "a rare disorder, not yet well understood," that's been found in the brains of football players, boxers and other athletes, as well as military personnel exposed to explosive blasts, the clinic said.

Research to date suggests that CTE is caused partly by repeated traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, and repeated blows to the head, or sub-concussive head impacts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the CDC says, scientific understanding of the causes of CTE remains limited, including a sense of the number and types of head impacts that increase the risk and whether biological, environmental or lifestyle factors may contribute to brain changes found in people with CTE diagnosed after death.

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