CFL Hall of Famer Matt Dunigan talks about his battle with concussions and why he’s giving his brain to research. (Video: UHN/YouTube)
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CLICK ON THE VIDEO ABOVE to hear Matt Dunigan share his story. Plus, hear why he's donating his brain to the Canadian Sports Concussion Project.

 

"I'd never felt like I felt that day... It changed my life forever." -Former CFL star Matt Dunigan on the final blow to his head that ended his career.

 

Concussions are a growing concern for players, parents, coaches and families. With growing evidence suggesting a link between concussions and neurodegenerative diseases, it is a crucial health issue that demands further research.

Answering the call is the Canadian Sports Concussion Project (CSCP) at Toronto Western Hospital's Krembil Neuroscience Centre. The project aims to solve many unanswered questions through research – and through the brain donation of athletes like former CFL star Matt Dunigan.

Why donate your brain?

Experts have theories about what might be happening in the brain as a result of a

concussion, but the only way to be sure is to examine brains that have suffered a concussion – which is why brain donation is so important.

Neuropathology, or the study by autopsy of a brain and the central nervous system after a person has passed away, provides a wealth of information to researchers.

Examining a brain's tissue can accomplish the following:

  • It's the only way to confirm a diagnosis of a type of brain disease
  • It helps determine whether existing medical treatments being used to treat that brain were effective
  • It provides information of how a brain disease progresses and how that progression differs from other diseases
  • It gives insight to the molecular basis of a disease which can help to develop new drugs to target them
     

"Brain autopsies are really our best option to learn more about how brain damage occurs from a concussion," said Dr. Charles Tator, neurosurgeon and research director of the CSCP.

"Once we are better able to make a connection between the symptoms a patient experiences in life and the effect they had on his or her brain cells, the more information we'll have to figure out how to treat these symptoms," he continued.

Dr. Charles Tator
​Dr. Charles Tator, research director for the Canadian Sports Concussion Project, hopes that former athletes who have suffered from repeated concussions will consider donating their brains to advance research on this brain injury.​ (Photo: UHN)

Brains autopsied

To date, the CSCP team has conducted autopsies on eight brains donated by former CFL players. A paper of its findings was published last year in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Research results showed that not all athletes with a history of repeat concussions had signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in their brain.

CTE is the neurodegenerative disease that has been recently linked to concussions. This finding contradicts recent assumptions that concussions will definitely cause CTE, but more research is needed to further understand what this means.

$2-million endowment

On May 28, the CSCP proudly announced the funding of the Gerald and Marion Soloway Chair in Concussion Brain Injury Research. The Chair, funded by a $2 million endowment, will support the continuing research efforts of the CSCP as it works to learn more about the long term effects of concussions.​

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