The only way to accurately diagnose many brain diseases, including Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), is studying the brain after death. In 2008 the Concussion Legacy Foundation partnered with Boston University and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to found the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank. Led by Dr. Ann McKee, the researchers and staff of the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank have revolutionized our understanding of CTE and brain trauma.
A story of firsts
When it opened in 2008, the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank became the first repository in the world dedicated to the study of CTE. Today, the Brain Bank focuses on concussions and other consequences of brain trauma, and has discovered the first cases of CTE in athletes whose primary exposure was soccer, rugby, baseball, ice hockey, college football and high school football. The VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank remains the single greatest CTE research resource in the world, housing 70% of global CTE cases.
A precious gift
It all begins with the incredible gift of a donated brain (click here to learn how to join the brain donation registry). Over 500 generous individuals and families have donated tissue to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, creating the world’s largest CTE repository. The generosity of our Legacy Families has laid the foundation for incredible discoveries about the long term consequences of brain trauma. Our Legacy Donors are the heroes of the battle against CTE. Thanks to these families and donors, we have compiled a diverse collection of donated tissue proving CTE is not only a problem for football, but a problem for any sport with routine head impacts as well as military veterans.
A journey of discovery
Upon arrival, the donated tissue is carefully studied and analyzed for evidence of all known brain diseases, including CTE. Researchers also conduct extensive interviews with friends and family of the Legacy Donor to understand what they were like in life, providing context for the tissue analysis. The tissue is then stored and samples are made available to leading researchers around the world.
Our findings are published in peer-reviewed medical journals, creating an undeniable body of evidence that repetitive brain trauma can lead to the devastating neurodegenerative disease CTE. Out of more than 500 brain donations, over 300 have tested positive for CTE, some as young as 17 years old. 110 of 111 former NFL players studied have been found to be CTE-positive.
The legacies of over 300 confirmed cases of CTE highlight the need for a better approach to managing and responding to brain trauma. The evidence has silenced those denying a link between brain trauma and CTE, winning endorsements from high ranking members of the National Institute of Health and the Department of Defense.
“I don't think there's any wiggle room. It's pretty clear this is due to head injury. Whether there are other things involved, and when it starts, that's hard to know, but I don't think there's any question that it's related to head injury"
- Dr. Walter Koroshetz, National Institute of Health
"CTE is only seen in the setting of repeated head trauma. At the end of the day, this is produced by head trauma. I'm sorry, that's what all the research says.”
- Dr. Dan Perl, Department of Defense
The Concussion Legacy Foundation's Role
The Concussion Legacy Foundation continues to support the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank through leading outreach, recruiting, and educational efforts. Dr. Cantu and Chris Nowinski serve on the BU ADC executive committee. Lisa McHale, the Foundation’s Director of Family Relations, exclusively supports Legacy Donor families through the donation process and beyond. In addition, the Foundation has donated over $1 million to the BU CTE Center.