Student Joins Scientific Huddle Over Football Concussions

Madeline Engeler '16
Madeline Engeler '16

During the fall of her first year at Brandeis, Madeline Engeler ’16 was elbowed in the head while playing volleyball. She fell, then got up, finished the rest of her warm-ups for practice and played the game.

A few hours later, she was vomiting and needed to go to the hospital. She’d suffered a concussion.

Engeler, a double major in biology and Health: Science, Society and Policy, began researching concussions. Of course, she knew all about the controversy surrounding professional football players whose long-term brain damage has been linked to concussions. Parents, too, now worry their children are at risk of brain injury when they play a sport.

Engeler found a lab at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute in Ohio that studied concussions. Funded by a Brandeis World of Work (WOW) fellowship, she worked as an intern there over the summer after her sophomore year.

She was interested in the relationship between epilepsy and a degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In the late 2000s, researchers at Boston University obtained the brains of six dead football players, in which they found evidence of CTE. It was proof that NFL athletes suffered high rates of brain damage most likely caused by repeated blows to the head during their careers.

Engeler was by far the youngest and least experienced member of the research team, which included scientists from around the country. She plans to go to medical school next year. “I was so grateful to be given the responsibility to spearhead a research project and witness the passion the lab has for research and medical advancement,” she says. “I’m so excited our paper was finally published.”