A national biobank to collect information and test samples relating to repeated traumatic brain injuries often associated with sport was launched on 22nd March 2022 in Australia, with New Zealand announcing its intention to establish a similar clinic and biobank.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a form of dementia that results from repeated head injuries, and is found in a cross-section of the community, from those engaged in contact and combat sports, to members of the military and survivors of domestic violence.
The symptoms include mood disturbance with depression and anxiety, behavioural disturbance with tendency of impulsivity and anger, changes in personality, impaired judgement and confusion with cognitive decline, and the effect on the people diagnosed and their families is devastating.
Currently there are no clinical tests to identify CTE; the disease can only be conclusively diagnosed by examining the brain after death.
The two biobanks will work together and seek to gather quality data and stored samples over the long term that can be reanalysed in future.
Macquarie University CTE researcher and Australian CTE Biobank (ACB) Director Dr Rowena Mobbs says patients and their families are desperate for more support from the community, and the clubs for whom they played.
“Make no mistake, CTE shatters lives – not only those of patients, but their families,” she says.
“Our aim is to develop specific biomarkers for CTE, detecting and treating it early – and ultimately preventing it.
“We hope that this could mean blood testing for CTE within five years, just as we see on the horizon for Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
“If we are to prevent it, there needs to be major national reform and greater cohesion across policy, clinical practice, and occupational health and safety for professional athletes at risk of repetitive brain injury and CTE.
“New patients are presenting with CTE every week, highlighting just how important this research is for athletes and the sports they represent.
“We are inviting support for the research programme from the NRL, AFL, and Rugby Australia, all of whose players have been demonstrated to have CTE in Australia. CTE can be compared to other occupational diseases.”
Professor Maurice Curtis is head of the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland, CoDirector of the CBR Neurological Foundation Human Brain Bank, and one of NZ’s leading neuroscientists in the field of neurodegenerative research.
“Momentum has been building towards the formation of the NZ CTE Research Clinic Biobank alongside other researchers on both sides of the Tasman,” he says.
“The work done here in New Zealand will complement that of our Australian colleagues and other leading groups around the world in this critical area of brain research.
The Australian CTE Biobank held its launch at Macquarie University on Tuesday, 22 March, with the assistance of Biobank Ambassadors including former NRL player James McManus and his wife Eshia McManus, former rugby union player Michael and his wife Francis Lipman, and former boxer Jeff Fenech.