The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health has launched a study with professional fighters that will help determine whether MRIs of the brain, along with other tests, can detect subtle changes in brain health that correlate with impaired thinking and functioning. The Center is working hand-in-hand with the Nevada Athletic Commission, Golden Boy Promotions, Top Rank Boxing and the UFC to spread the word about the importance of this research to the sport.
Researchers hope the information uncovered by this research will eventually result in better ways to prevent permanent brain injury in not only fighters, but also in others who may suffer from brain trauma. This information could also be used in the future to help develop better protective equipment across sports.
Studies suggest that 20% to 50% of professional fighters may develop conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, depression, and other serious neurological and neuropsychiatric problems, often at a young age.
Currently, there is no way to determine if a fighter has sustained cumulative brain damage.
Researchers have enrolled about 20 fighters with the ultimate goal of 625 by the study's completion. Involvement in the study is voluntary, and fighters who participate in the study will receive free, ongoing assessment of their brain health and brain function, including MRI scans. Individual tests will be repeated once a year for four years so that any changes to the participants' brains can be noted and monitored.
Researchers will measure changes in brain volume, scarring and blood flow via MRI scans. Any changes seen on the participant's MRI will be correlated with their performance on cognitive assessments and neurologic exams. For fighters who demonstrate a correlation between MRI findings and cognitive decline, researchers hope to determine whether there is any relationship to the number of blows, number of rounds fought, knockouts, dehydration or other factors.