WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Though fierce competitors in the ring, four professional fighting organizations have put aside their long-standing rivalries to ensure research continues in a landmark study for professional fighters at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.
Boxing entities Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank Boxing and mixed martial arts programs Ultimate Fighting Championship and Viacom's Bellator MMA and GLORY kickboxing have collaboratively committed $600,000 to help continue Cleveland Clinic's Professional Fighters Brain Health Study.
Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and John McCain (R-AZ) showed their support for the study by joining executives from Cleveland Clinic and the fighting organizations at the announcement. Sen. Reid was an amateur boxer in his youth, and Sen. McCain boxed at the U.S. Naval Academy and has been involved in legislation related to boxing since the mid-1990s. In 2012, the Senators together introduced legislation that created the United States Boxing Commission to oversee boxing matches around the country, administer and enforce federal laws on boxing, and fight conflicts of interest within the sport.
"As a former boxer, I know first-hand the toll that a fighter's body takes when he or she is in the ring," said Sen. Reid. "I want to thank Cleveland Clinic and the leaders of the four fighting organizations for bringing awareness to this important issue facing professional sports today."
The four sporting powerhouses came together to assist in funding the study, which is now in its third year at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas. The study, which launched in April 2011, is focused on developing methods to detect the earliest and most subtle signs of brain injury in those exposed to head trauma, as well as determining which individuals may be more likely to develop chronic neurological disorders. While it is still in the early stages, researchers are confident the findings will benefit the safety and health of professional fighters. This information could also be applied to other athletes, members of the military and civilians who may experience head trauma.
"I appreciate the fact that top boxing and mixed martial-arts organizations have joined together to directly support the Cleveland Clinic's Professional Fighters Brain Health Study," said Sen. McCain. "The willingness of these organizations to support research into the effects of contact sports on brain health indicates their willingness to take very seriously the welfare of their boxers and fighters and demonstrates that they recognize how crucial fighter safety is to the long-term viability of their sports. I am hopeful that their funding for this study will advance our understanding, diagnosis, and treatment of brain trauma and support similar research efforts going well beyond the ring."
"This gift is significant on many levels, but to see these organizations come together to continue this important work confirms that what we're doing at the center is important to the future of fighting," said Larry Ruvo, Chairman of Keep Memory Alive and Senior Managing Director of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada.
To date, the study has enrolled nearly 400 active and retired fighters with the goal of evaluating 625 by its completion. Participation is completely voluntary, and fighters in the study receive free, ongoing assessments of their brain health and brain function, including MRI scans. Individual tests will be repeated annually for at least four years.
"Cleveland Clinic initiated this pioneering study in hopes of answering some key questions about the impact of head trauma, and the professional fighter community has welcomed our effort from the start," said Toby Cosgrove, M.D., President and CEO of Cleveland Clinic. "We're committed to continuing this important research, and it is inspiring to see so many others in our side of the ring."
Studies suggest a percentage of professional fighters have a higher risk of developing long-term conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), depression and other neurological and neuropsychiatric problems, often at a young age. Currently, there is no way to determine if a fighter has sustained cumulative brain damage from head trauma; the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is working toward identifying risk factors in these individuals.
Researchers measure changes in brain volume, nerve fiber injury and connectivity, and blood flow via MRI scans. Any changes seen on the participant's MRI will be correlated with their performance on assessments of cognition, behavior, balance and speech. For fighters who demonstrate a relationship between MRI findings and clinical decline, researchers hope to determine whether there are other factors such as genetics, lifestyle characteristics or the amount or type of exposure to head trauma that make them more susceptible to injury.
Preliminary results from the study have already been published or presented at a number of national meetings. Among the promising findings, the study detected changes in the volume of specific brain regions. The connections between certain areas of the brain were detected by MRI scanning in some individuals within as little as a one-year period, suggesting that MRI measures may turn out to be a useful method of tracking brain changes over time in those exposed to head trauma.
Moreover, the study found that exposure to head trauma – using the Composite Index, a formula that includes number of fights, years of fighting and fights per year – correlates with brain volume and cognitive performance. Those with a higher score on the Composite Index are more likely to score lower on cognitive testing. Pending validation over time, this may be a screening tool to identify fighters at higher risk of brain injury.
"We have made great progress in the study so far, and we are continuing to work toward understanding why certain individuals sustain long-term brain injury from repeated head trauma and how we can detect changes early to protect those individuals," said Charles Bernick, M.D., Associate Medical Director at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and principle investigator on the study. "With the support of the fighting community, our goal is to use this information to improve safety in these sports for generations to come."
The collaborative gift announced today from the fighting organizations, combined with funds from the Helen and Augustine P. Rapone Research Fund at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, will provide the necessary support to continue the Professional Fighters Brain Health Study for another year.
For more information on this trial and the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, call 855-LOU-RUVO (1-855-568-7886), visit www.clevelandclinic.org/fighterstudy or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health
Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health provides state-of-the-art care for cognitive disorders and for the family members of those who suffer from them. The physicians and staff at the Center for Brain Health continuously work towards the development of early diagnosis and the advancement of knowledge concerning mild cognitive disorders, which could one day delay or prevent their onset. Patients receive expert diagnosis and treatment at the Center for Brain Health, which offers a multidisciplinary patient-focused approach to diagnosis and treatment, promoting collaboration across all care providers, offering patients a complete continuum of care and infusing education and research into all that it does. The facility, designed by Frank Gehry, houses clinical space, a diagnostic center, neuroimaging rooms, physician offices, laboratories devoted to clinical research and the Keep Memory Alive Event Center. For more information, visit http://www.clevelandclinic.org/brainhealth.
About Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S.News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation's best hospitals in its annual "America's Best Hospitals" survey. More than 3,000 full-time salaried physicians and researchers and 11,000 nurses represent 120 medical specialties and subspecialties. The Cleveland Clinic health system includes a main campus near downtown Cleveland, eight community hospitals, more than 75 Northern Ohio outpatient locations, including 16 full-service Family Health Centers, Cleveland Clinic Florida, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Cleveland Clinic Canada, and, currently under construction, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. In 2012, there were 5.1 million outpatient visits throughout the Cleveland Clinic health system and 157,000 hospital admissions. Patients came for treatment from every state and from more than 130 countries. Visit us at www.clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at www.twitter.com/ClevelandClinic.
Additional Comments from Executives and Fighters:
Todd duBoef, President, Top Rank:
"Many of our Las Vegas families have been at the forefront in supporting The Cleveland Clinic, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health's mission since its inception because of the direct impact Alzheimer's Disease had on us," said Todd duBoef, president of Top Rank. "Now that their study has extended into the sport of boxing, Top Rank is dedicated to doing everything it can in helping to fund its research of this critical study. The future of boxing is in protecting and improving the health and safety of fighters at the earliest stages of their careers. We are proud of our founding partnership with the Lou Ruvo Center and will continue our ongoing support to this fantastic program and the institution."
Lorenzo Fertitta, Chairman and CEO, Ultimate Fighting Championship:
"Nothing is more important to the UFC than the health and safety of our athletes. As the world's premier MMA organization we have consistently lived up to that commitment to our fighters and we always will. UFC was the first – and remains the only – combat sports organization to provide our athletes with accident insurance coverage for training-related injuries. Today's announcement is a 'no brainer' for us, as we continue our commitment to athlete safety. We are proud to join with these other prominent promoters – our colleague and competitors – to support the Cleveland Clinic's brain health study. We are encouraged by the early results of the study and we look forward to the final findings of the Lou Ruvo Center's research, knowing that they will benefit our athletes, as well as athletes from many other sports. Finally, the support shown by Senators Reid and McCain, and many of their colleagues, cannot go unnoticed. They have been true leaders and we thank them on behalf of the UFC, our athletes and our fans."
Kevin Kay, President, Spike TV (Bellator/Glory):
"The Bellator MMA and Glory kickboxing fighters that we feature on Spike TV are some of the most dedicated and fearless athletes in combat sports. We owe it to these fighters to make sure we are doing everything we can to insure their safety. Viacom and Spike TV are proud to partner with the Cleveland Clinic and the other major combat sports organizations in the goal of advancing research to improve treatments for brain injury."
Richard Schaefer, Chief Executive Officer, Golden Boy Enterprises:
"As the leading promoter in boxing we are happy to support this important study and honored to be involved with the Cleveland Clinic and such a distinguished group of fight promoters. I am happy to see that the fight community has united in this important effort."
Bernard Hopkins, IBF light heavyweight champion:
"Boxing isn't like other sports; it's not a game. And the sooner we, as fighters, can detect when there's a problem that needs to be addressed, then we can act accordingly. The Cleveland Clinic is making history with this study and I encourage all fighters to get involved and be informed. Take control of your career, your health and your life."
SOURCE Cleveland Clinic