About Dr. McKee's Research
The McKee Lab’s research focuses on understanding the pathology, clinical presentation and risks for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), including developing ways to diagnose and treat CTE. Our studies also focus on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), particularly as it relates to head trauma, and other neurodegenerations, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
The Understanding Neurologic Injury and Traumatic Encephalopathy (UNITE) Study started in 2014 as a UO1 funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering. The UNITE Study was enormously successful and resulted in 45 seminal manuscripts on CTE, including the publication of preliminary criteria for the diagnosis of CTE (5) and a landmark paper in JAMA demonstrating CTE in 177 of 202 American football players (13). The overarching goal of the UNITE Study is to analyze the neuropathology and clinical presentation of brain donors designated as “at risk” for the development of CTE based on prior athletic or military exposure. There is a large effort to recruit female brain donors into the UNITE Study. We are collecting data for the UNITE Study that will be critical to establishing genetic and environmental risk factors for CTE.
A behavioral neurologist or neuropsychologist conducts a set of clinical interviews with the family and loved ones of the brain donor and collects and reviews medical records. When the analysis is complete, the case is presented at a clinicopathological conference, where a panel of physicians and neuropsychologists, blinded to the neuropathological findings, reach a clinical consensus diagnosis using published criteria, including proposed clinical research criteria for Traumatic Encephalopathy Syndrome.
A board-certified neuropathologist analyzes the brain and spinal cord of donors in the VA-BU-CLF (UNITE Study) brain bank while blinded to the clinical assessment. The assessment includes comprehensive evaluation for all neurodegenerative disease, including CTE, using published criteria.
The Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium is a multi-center collaboration linking basic science, translational, and clinical neuroscience researchers from the Department of Defense, VA, academic universities, and private research institutes to effectively address the scientific, diagnostic, and therapeutic ramifications of mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) and its long-term effects.
The main focus of the CENC brain bank is to understand the effects of blast injuries and military-related concussive impacts on the human brain. There is a large effort to recruit veterans of the recent conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo as brain donors.
Blast exposure is the leading cause of mild traumatic brain injuries (mTBI) among U.S. forces deployedto Afghanistan and Iraq in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation New Dawn (OND). Military personnel exposed to blast injury report persistent symptoms, including headache, memory loss, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety, although the pathobiology underlying these chronic symptoms is not entirely clear. One of the major obstacles limiting research into the long-term effects of blast injuries has been the paucity of human brain tissue samples and the lack of appropriate brain banks with clinically validated tissue. The UNITE (VA-BU-CLF) Brain Bank and CENC Brain Banks have the largest collection of brain tissue from individuals with a history of repetitive neurotrauma, including military veterans exposed to blast and concussive impact injury. There is a large effort to recruit female veterans as brain donors into the CENC Study.