Bennet Omalu receives American Medical Association's highest honor

November 14, 2016

Bennet Omalu, associate clinical professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at UC Davis Health System, received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Medical Association for his groundbreaking work on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) on Saturday at the 2016 AMA Interim Meeting, in Orlando, Fla.

Bennet Omalu at a public forum on concussion and traumatic brain injury in October 2015.
Bennet Omalu at a public forum on concussion and traumatic brain injury in October 2015.

CTE is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by cognitive and behavioral symptoms linked to traumatic brain injury. The symptoms of CTE — which include worsening attention, concentration and memory — are insidious, sometimes occurring more than 10 years after the inciting event.

Omalu first diagnosed CTE in 2002 in a National Football League player. The disorder has since been confirmed by postmortem examination in dozens of American athletes.Today CTE is widely recognized as a health risk in millions of patients with histories of repetitive brain trauma, including military veterans.

Trained as a forensic neuropathologist, Omalu serves as chief medical examiner for the San Joaquin County Coroner’s Office. He attended medical school at the University of Nigeria at 16 and became a U.S. citizen in 2015.

The story of Omalu’s CTE research and the pressure he faced from the NFL inspired the 2015 film “Concussion,” in which he was portrayed by Will Smith.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million concussions occur each year. Research at Boston University CTE Center and at UCLA is investigating methods for antemortem diagnosis of CTE.

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