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Student & Alumni Achievements

Student & Alumni Achievements

Pittsburgh Alumnus Portrayed by Will Smith in ‘Concussion’

University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health alumnus Dr. Bennet Omalu, has been walking the red carpet at premieres for the movie Concussion, which describes findings he made while a student at Pitt Public Health pursuing his degree specializing in epidemiology from 2002 to 2004.

[Photo: (left to right): Drs. Lewis Kuller, Bennet Omalu, Thomas Songer, and Anne Newman catch up at the Pittsburgh advanced screening of the movie Concussion]

Featuring actor Will Smith portraying Dr. Omalu, the film is a dramatic depiction of the forensic pathologist’s research into brain damage suffered by professional football players and his race against time to publicize his findings on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) while confronting attempts by the NFL to deny the problem and disparage him.

Dr. Omalu’s two seminal paper on CTE “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player (Parts 1 and 2),” published in the journal Neurosurgery in 2005 and 2006, respectfully, were co-authored by five Pitt colleagues, including current Pitt Public Health faculty Dr. Ryan Minster, and Dr. Ilyas Kamboh. His 2010 broader case series paper “Emerging Histo-morphological Phenotypes of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in American Athletes,” also published in Neurosurgery, was co-authored by Dr. Kamboh, who provided research to determine if genetic variation in the APOE gene – a strong risk factor for Alzheimer’s Disease – was also associated with CTE and whether it could be used as an ancillary marker for the differential diagnosis of CTE.

While earning his master’s in public health degree Dr. Omalu was advised by Dr. Lewis Kuller, emeritus professor and past chair of Pitt Public Health’s department of epidemiology. Together they wrote and published two papers on deaths in bariatric surgery patients. After receiving his MPH, Dr. Omalu served as an adjunct assistant professor in epidemiology at Pitt Public Health from 2004 to 2006.

At the advanced screening of the movie in Pittsburgh, Dr. Kuller, along with current epidemiology chair, Dr. Anne Newman, and Dr. Thomas J. Songer, assistant professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health, caught up with Dr. Omalu.

The movie opened nationwide on Christmas Day to positive reviews and a renewed discussion into the risk of concussion and potential subsequent brain damage in both professional and children’s sports. Shortly before the movie premiere, Pitt announced it would be collaborating with Dr. Omalu on The Bennet Omalu Foundation to focus on the continued study and understanding of CTE.

For more information on the foundation, visit