The Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics (SBMT) held its 13th annual meeting in Miami, Florida, last weekend. Among the distinguished speakers was Dr. Bennet Omalu. Dr. Omalu is the neuropathologist who first described chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), after ordering special laboratory preparations of brain tissue in the course of his autopsy of Mike Webster, a former professional football player and Super Bowl champion. In publishing his findings, Dr. Omalu drew unexpected hostility from the National Football League, and the story of this experience was the basis for the recent Hollywood film “Concussion” starring Will Smith.
In his first keynote lecture, Dr. Omalu gave an inspiring talk about the importance of listening to people who present ideas that are outside the mainstream. He emphasized that, when people who are on the margins of society do not have a chance to be heard and make contributions, all of society is the worse for it. He further implored the audience to use science in the service of humanity, and criticized the narrow pursuit of science for the sake of science. As an example of how humanitarian and scientific impulses both converge on truth in the larger sense, he gave his own example of what motivated him to order special laboratory preparations for his examination of Mike Webster.
To paraphrase, Omalu explained that, “After Mike died, everyone was ridiculing him, as his life had gone completely downhill after his days in football, and he was living out of his truck. That made me very angry, as I identified with him, as someone who was not part of the mainstream. Furthermore, scientifically, there was no good explanation for his history of severely compromised cognitive ability and behavior – like someone with a major neurodegenerative disease – given the grossly normal features of his brain. And this is why I ordered the additional lab preparations, and paid for them with my own money.” Not only did Dr. Omalu have to pay for these studies with his own money, he had to do subsequent analyses in his own home, as he had been fired from his job because of controversy over his paper.
In his second talk, Dr. Omalu emphasized that the focus of scientists and physicians should not be on CTE, because that is a diagnosis only made at autopsy. Instead, there should be more emphasis on preventing and identifying disease in the living.
On several occasions, he told the assembled neuroscientists, neurosurgeons, neurotechnology specialists, and others, that it was his Judeo-Christian faith that gave him strength, during his trials. The essential truth of that faith is that all humanity is one, Omalu stated, and it is a truth shared by all the great religions.
With his tone alternating between high humanitarian passion and detached scientific objectivity, Omalu also was pointed in his expression of appreciation, for the invitation to address the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics. He stated that the SBMT was the first scientific organization to formally recognize his efforts. After his lectures, the SBMT honored Omalu with a Pioneer in Medicine Award.
Brain State Technologies is pleased to note that its Director of Research, Dr. Sung Lee, also gave a talk at the SBMT’s annual meeting, in a session on Trauma in the Military, that followed Dr. Omalu’s first lecture. Dr. Lee’s presentation was titled “Moving the Needle on Brain Enhancement,” and he shared data on use of HIRREM®, a noninvasive computer-guided technology developed by Brain State, for military personnel with symptoms of traumatic stress. The study was supported by the US Department of Defense (through Special Operations Command) and conducted at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Data showed that use of HIRREM® was associated with significant reduction of symptoms of PTSD, and also improved regulation of heart rate and blood pressure. Although PTSD is sometimes considered a “psychological” condition, there is much evidence to show that it is associated with a variety of medical disorders including heart disease. Dr. Lee explained that disturbance in other systems is predictable because of the role of the brain as the organ of central command. And furthermore, he contended that an effective intervention for the brain should also have positive impacts on the body, by the same logic and physiological connections.
Dr. Lee concluded his talk by presenting data showing that use of HIRREM® by individuals with traumatic brain injury and sports-related concussion was also associated with significant improvements.
For more information on HIRREM Research, please visit Wake Forest School of Medicine