VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank

Doctors at the BU CTE Center examine brain injury pictures
Dr. Robert Cantu, Dr. Robert Stern, and Dr. Ann McKee of the Boston University CTE Center examine images of a brain as Concussion Legacy Foundation co-founder Dr. Chris Nowinski looks on. Photo credit: Ann McKee, MD, Boston University, VA Boston Healthcare.

Identifying CTE

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 600 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.

Dr. Ann McKee, VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank
Dr. Ann McKee is director of the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, which houses 70% of global CTE cases. Photo: Boston University. Support Dr. McKee's research by clicking here.

About the Director

Dr. Ann McKee, Director of the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank, is changing the world with her research. In 2018, Dr. McKee was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alzheimer's Association, and was also elected by her peers to the National Academy of Medicine. In 2017 she was named Bostonian of the Year by the Boston Globe. Read more about Dr. McKee here. Support her research by clicking here.

Undeniable evidence

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 600 brain donations, over 325 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 325 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 via ESPN

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.

Related: I think I may be living with CTE. What do I do?

Leading to a Safer Future

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Concussion Legacy Foundation
361 Newbury Street, 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02115

(T) 857.244.0810
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