This morning I headed to Frankfurt to meet with Tom Bender, General Manager of DFL (Deutscher Fußball-Bund), the German Football League, which I was told is marketing and business arm of the German Football Association. The meeting was set up by former EF Miriam Merckel, who apparently is a big deal here, because Mr. Bender did not know why we were meeting, but trusted Miriam.
I told him and his team the work we were doing, and that German football almost certainly has a big concussion problem below the surface, and that in the next few years we will find CTE in a former soccer player… and then I asked his thoughts. All of this was new to Mr. Bender – he’s more focused on the business aspects of DFL, and he has not discussed this issue in depth with his doctors, which is surprising, and then again not surprising.
He told me his sub-organization is not responsible for rules or training, but that he would like to be helpful. He offered to include concussion information in their marketing publications and get me in touch with a top doctor there. He was genuinely interested and helpful, which I appreciated. Andreas Nagel, VP of Competition, had the most interesting question. He said, “Do you think the major sports leagues in charge of youth sports will feel threatened by the information and not want to be helpful?” Intuitive. I said that’s why I’m starting at the top with them. We’ll see where this goes.
At least DFB was more helpful than the German Handball Federation, which is a violent and popular sport here. This is the email my program manager got back after she requested a meeting to discuss concussions in handball.
Dear Mrs Ganter-Richter,
after talking with the leading doctor of the German Handball Federation, Dr. Berthold Hallmaier, we regret to inform you, that we cannot be of help (for your request). None of the doctors, which are active in treatments provided by the German handball Federation, is a specialist in this field. Also we do not have any information or statistics about the injuries you mentioned.
BRILLIANT. They don’t have any concussion experts or and never bothered to keep statistics, so they don’t have a concussion problem...
Too bad they can get away with it - for now.
Bonn and DZNE
After the meeting I took another train to Bonn, the former capital of West Germany. It was another place that seemed to be calling to me, considering the picture on the right is 'art' in the center of town - it's the two saints the church behind was named after. Well, it's their five foot tall heads.
I met with Pierluigi Nicotera MD, PhD, the Scientific Director & Chairman of the Executive Board Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen (DZNE). The German government recently launched a national research institute on neurodegenerative diseases, and right now they are receiving 70 million euro a year. It’s one of the largest federal neurodegenerative research facilities in the world, perhaps only behind NIH.
I was joined at the meeting by Sabine Ganter-Richter, my program administrator that has been setting up my meetings and coordinating my travel for this trip. She lives in Bonn and has done incredible work, and it was nice to put a face to the hundreds of emails over the last 6 months. I didn't have anyone to take the pic, so it's a bad selfie, but it's all I have.
I couldn’t have been happier – Dr. Nicotera did not realize CTE research had advanced so much, but he could not have been more supportive. He is an expert in cell death, so CTE is right up his alley. Do you realize when you are sitting in a room with someone and that they are, like, standard deviations smarter than you? Where you are just trying to keep up? He was that kind of smart, which explains why he is in the position he’s in. In 5 minutes he laid out the research plan that he would pursue from here – which luckily mirrors closely what we have planned. (I recruited smart folks at BU too)
The DZNE is about to launch a longitudinal study of the population, and will follow 30,000 people with MRI’s every 3 years. Because of our meeting, he said he may delve further into sports and trauma history of those 30,000 subjects. Of course we also talked brain bank and other things, and Dr. Nicotera was really open to anything. This place is great. If only he could talk to the handball people…
Bonn is also the birthplace of Beethoven, so here is the obligatory pic of the house in which he was born.
Traveled to Berlin - my bags made it too, so nothing to report yet.