Category Archives: People & Discovery

How Nigerian Doctor Discovered Concussion Trauma in American Football Players

“There are times I wish I never looked at Mike Webster’s brain. It has dragged me into worldly affairs I do not want to be associated with – human meanness, wickedness and selfishness. People trying to cover up, to control how information is released. I started this not knowing I was walking into a minefield. That is my only regret.”

These are the words of Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu, a Nigerian physician, forensic pathologist and neuropathologist who first discover and publish a link between American football and the brain damage – Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), in former players.

Omalu’s work has changed a sport, and helped provoke a billion-dollar lawsuit and inspired a Hollywood film, Concussion (in which Will Smith played the role of Omelu) that was nominated for a Golden Globe.

But Omalu who knew little about American football attracted many enemies. American Football club owners and fans love their game very much that they saw Omalu as a threat to the game. They rejected his findings and questioned his right as a Nigerian to link their beloved American football to a brain trauma.

“I really wish I wasn’t brought into this…Lead a quiet life, enjoy my life, die a simple death. But now I have no choice. My life has been impacted in the most negative way. People are reacting very emotionally to me. They don’t like me. Call me all types of names but I am simply speaking to the truth,”

he said.

The Discovery of CTE

Omalu first discovered the CTE when examining the body of Mike Webster, a former pro football player with the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers while working at the coroner’s office in September 2002.

Webster had displayed patterns of distressing behavior before his death from a heart attack at age 50, and Omalu was curious as to what clues the former player’s brain would reveal.

After careful examination of the brain, Omalu discovered clumps of tau proteins, which impair function upon accumulation. It was similar to “dementia pugilista,” a degenerative disease documented decades earlier in boxers, though it had yet to be connected to football players.

After confirming his findings with top faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh, Omalu named the condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and submitted a paper titled “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player” to the Medical journal Neurosurgery.

Omalu’s discovery was discredited by the mouthpiece of the National Football League (NFL) and the Mild Traumatic Brian Injury (MTBI) Committee discredited Omalu’s research as “flawed” and refused to acknowledge a link between the sport and the brain damage in former players.

However, Omalu gained an important supporter in Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of neurosurgery at the West Virginia University School of Medicine and a former team physician for the Steelers. With Bailes and lawyer Bob Fitzsimmons, Omalu founded the Sports Legacy Institute (later renamed the Concussion Legacy Foundation) to continue studies of CTE.

Omalu pressed forward with his examination of Terry Long, another former football player who had committed suicide at age 45, and discovered the same buildup of tau proteins. His follow-up paper to Neurosurgery was published in November 2006.

Despite the NFL’s public evasiveness, Omalu and his supporters scored a victory when Mike Webster’s family was awarded a significant settlement in December 2006.

Omalu’s Nigerian and Academic Background

Omalu was born in Nigeria during the civil war of 1968 in Idemili South, a small town in eastern part of Nigeria. The sixth of seven children of a civil engineer and a seamstress, Omalu was admitted to the Federal Government College in Enugu at age 12 and at age 15 he began medical school at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN).

After earning his first of 10 degrees or board certifications in 1990, Omalu interned at University of Jos Teaching Hospital (UJTH), before being accepted to a visiting scholar program at the University of Washington in 1994 at the age of 25. He then served his residency at Harlem Hospital Center, where he developed his interest in pathology.

In 1999, Omalu moved to Pittsburgh to train under noted pathologist Cyril Wecht at the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office. Omalu holds eight advanced degrees and board certifications, later receiving fellowships in pathology and neuropathology through the University of Pittsburgh in 2000 and 2002 respectively, a Master of Public Health (MPH) in epidemiology in 2004 from University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University in 2008.

Movie and Book

Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu and actor Will Smith CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Will Smith was one NFL fan who allowed Omalu’s findings to challenge his thinking and, in preparing to play Omalu in the 2015 film Concussion, he watched him perform four autopsies and saw first-hand how he would play music and talk to the deceased person.

Will Smith said, “I was inspired by Bennet’s courage and faith…He combines that into one gorgeous human being. I was ecstatic to find that depth of character. I love that guy.”

Omalu released his book, Truth Doesn’t Have a Side on the 9th of this month with the forward written by Will Smith.

Omalu is currently chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, California and is a professor in the UC Davis Department of Medical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Omalu who only became an US citizen in February 2015 is married to Prema Mutiso, originally from Kenya. They live in Lodi, California and have two children, Ashly and Mark.

Sources: Wikipedia, Telegraph, Biography.com

19-Year-Old Ghanaian has Built a Search Engine to Rival Google and Youtube

Gabriel Opare, a 19-year-old Ghanaian student has built a new search engine to rival Google and Youtube. Gabriel built a free search engine for videos called Mudclo. Mudclo, an impressive metasearch engine, allows users to discover, search and stream video content from multiple sources on the internet all in one place.

Gabriel believes his search engine is good enough to compete in the search engine business and that it can scale globally. According to Gabriel, “YouTube is a video hosting website, Mudclo combines the power of YouTube and two other video hosting websites in order to create Mudclo,” Its users most popular searches include adverts, music videos and amateur content.

What Google Users Think About Africa

This is a big innovation coming out from Ghana which has seen countries like Nigeria and Kenya popping out series of tech innovations in recent times. Opare is only a level 300 sociology student of the University of Ghana and taught himself how to code by taking online courses during his free time. It is amazing for Gabriel to have come up with this innovation, considering the fact that his skills are not polished yet and he has not gone through high level coding programs like those of Andela.

Mudclo has already caught the attention of some tech companies, including more established video hosting sites, although, there is still some work to be done on Mudclo to fix bugs, boost the features and visual experiences it offers users.

The Black Woman Who Changed Modern Medicine and Saved Millions of Lives

“When other cells are very finicky and you look at them crosswise and they die, her cells grow happily in the laboratory dish decade after decade.”  –  Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, United Sates

“Grown and sold around the world, [Henrietta] Lacks’ legacy lived on in her cells: they have travelled to space, they have been embedded in a nuclear bomb…HeLa [Henrietta Lacks] cells were used to test the polio vaccine, develop in-vitro fertilization, and several chemotherapy drugs among hundreds of medical advances.” – NBC News

“HeLa cells were in high demand and put into mass production. They were mailed to scientists around the globe for “research into cancerAIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and countless other scientific pursuits”. HeLa cells were the first human cells successfully cloned in 1955, and have since been used to test human sensitivity to tape, glue, cosmetics, and many other products. Since the 1950s, scientists have grown 20 tons of her cells, and there are almost 11,000 patents involving HeLa cells.” – Wikipedia

Read: How people of African Decent Can Benefit from Precision Medicine

“Something like half of the Nobel Prizes in medicine over the course of the last 60 years have utilized HeLa cells to make their discoveries.” –  Dr. Francis Collins

Despite all these incredible amount of advances and contribution to the world of medicine that had come from this one woman’s cells, unless you’re in the medical field — you’ve probably never even heard her name.

Even the Lacks family for decades had no idea of these amazing break throughs. When doctors came to test the family’s blood for more research, her children didn’t understand what it meant. They didn’t know.

Read: Nigerian who Needed Stem Cell Treatment Dies after Sister was Refused UK Visa

Who is Henrietta Lacks?

According to Wikipedia, “Henrietta Lacks (born Loretta Pleasant; August 1, 1920 – October 4, 1951) was an African-American woman whose cancer cells were the source of the HeLa cell line, the first immortalized cell line and one of the most important cell lines in medical research. An immortalized cell line will reproduce indefinitely under specific conditions, and the HeLa cell line continues to be a source of invaluable medical data to the present day.”

The medical research

As written on Wikipedia, “George Otto Gey, the first researcher to study Lacks’s cancerous cells, observed that her cells were unique in that they reproduced at a very high rate and could be kept alive long enough to allow more in-depth examination. Until then, cells cultured for laboratory studies only survived for a few days at most, which wasn’t long enough to perform a variety of different tests on the same sample. Lacks’s cells were the first to be observed that could be divided multiple times without dying, which is why they became known as “immortal.” After Lacks’ death, Gey had Mary Kubicek, his lab assistant, take further HeLa samples while Henrietta’s body was at Johns Hopkins’ autopsy facility. The roller-tube technique was the method used to culture the cells obtained from the samples that Kubicek collected. Gey was able to start a cell line from Lacks’s sample by isolating one specific cell and repeatedly dividing it, meaning that the same cell could then be used for conducting many experiments. They became known as HeLa cells, because Gey’s standard method for labeling samples was to use the first two letters of the patient’s first and last names.”

Read: The Deplorable State of Medical Research in Nigeria

No consent, no compensation

Before the cells of Henrietta Lacks were collected, no consent was obtained and neither she or her family was compensated for their use. Johns Hopkins Hospital was reported to have said that it never profited from HeLa cells, but millions of dollars have changed hands elsewhere, as the cells were cultured and sold around the world.

According to NBC, the Lacks family was never compensated, but are moving forward and says the impact is bigger than money.

Read: How 50 Medical Experts Separated Kenyan Conjoined Twins in 23-Hour Surgery