July 22 - New research shows that boxers' brain fluids can change after a fight, indicating nerve cell damage that may not be immediately obvious. The findings give ammunition to those who believe that boxing needs to be better regulated, but for fighters like Swedish Olympic hopeful Salomo Ntuve, they're much less important than a gold medal. Sharon Reich has more.
PLEASE NOTE: THIS EDIT CONTAINS 4:3 MATERIAL Swedish fighter, Salomo Ntuve is well aware of the inherent dangers of his sport. Boxers are highly vulnerable to brain inujury, but Ntuve is preparing for the fight of his life. He'll be punching for gold at this year's Olympics and says he's focused only on winning. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SWEDISH OLYMPIC BOXING HOPEFUL SALOMO NTUVE SAYING: "I saw the Olympic games and I said to myself 'I want to be there' and now I'm here …. [cut two bites together] "It's a part of boxing to be knocked out but I'm less worried to not to lose than not to be in a knock-out." But a new study reveals that Ntuve and other boxers should be worried. The extent of brain damage to which boxers are exposed has long been the subject of debate, but now Swedish researchers say they have evidence that underscores critics' worst fears. A team led by neuro-researcher and former boxing champ Dr. Sanna Neselius say that after receiving a blow to the head, even boxers who feel fine can exhibit brain fluid changes indicative of nerve cell damage. The team extracted spinal fluid from 30 top-level Swedish boxers after a fight and then again two weeks later to see what changes they exhibited over time. (SOUNDBITE)(English) LEAD RESEARCHER AND FORMER BOXING CHAMPION SANNA NESELIUS SAYING: "What we found was that 80 per cent of the boxers had high levels of certain proteins in their spinal liquid, which means that they have got very small damage to the brain, that we call concussion". After the second round of tests, the fluid in most of the boxers' brains had normalized, but 20 per cent still had elevated concentrations indicating brain damage. Neselius fears that if boxers feel no different after being hit in the head , they're likely to keep fighting, unaware that the next punch their opponent lands could cause life-long brain injury. (SOUNDBITE)(English) LEAD RESEARCHER AND FORMER BOXING CHAMPION SANNA NESELIUS SAYING: "What we can say is that if you get what we call minimal traumatic brain injury or a concussion, it would not be advisable to box when the concentrations are still elevated so maybe it would be advisable to wait for example two weeks before you fight again," she said. But this is not a possibility for Olympians like Ntuve, who needs to win six fights in two weeks to take home a medal from the London Games. He now knows the risks, but says that isn't enough to stop him from doing what he loves. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SWEDISH OLYMPIC BOXING HOPEFUL SALOMO NTUVE SAYING: "My friends and my family they say to me start running, because I'm very good at running but it's boring for me. I don't like to run and still boxing is my thing, people know me as a boxer," he said. Going forward, Neselius and her team hope the Olympic Committee and the Swedish Boxing Federation will use the results of their study to improve safety regulations and help boxers stay on their feet. Sharon Reich, Reuters