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By MYRON LOVE
Jason Dzikowicz suffered his first concussion when he was 13. Over a six-year career as a free safety in the Canadian Football League, he was concussed several more times.


“Back then (in the 1990s), when you were knocked unconscious in a game, you were said to have your bell rung,” recalls the former Blue Bomber. “You’d be given smelling salts and sent back onto the field.”
He finally had to quit the game he loved in 1997 because he was beginning to have visual problems. Over the years since, he has frequently had mood swings and suffered from depression. He also says that he has also suffered short term memory and has blank spots in his memory to do with the past.
“I played in two Grey Cup Games and I can’t remember anything about them,” he says.
On Sunday, March 29th, 3:00 pm at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, Dzikowicz will be sharing his story as a member of a panel whose topic is “Brain Matters: A Panel about Brain Research, related injury and disease like Epilepsy, Alzheimer, early detection and prevention”.
“Brain injury is a hot topic due to growing evidence that even mild trauma suffered in contact sports can have severe consequences,” notes Ariel Karabelnicoff, Executive Director of the Winnipeg Office of Canadian Associates of Ben-Gurion University (CABGU), which is presenting the panel discussion. “Yet the search is still on for effective medical and cognitive treatments for patients with a brain injury.”
Joining Jason Dzikowicz on the panel will be Dr. Michael Ellis, medical director of the Pan Am Concussion Program, who holds clinical appointments in the Department of Surgery and Pediatrics and Section of Neurosurgery at the University of Manitoba (He is co-director of the Canada North Concussion Network); Dr. Benedict Albensi, Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the University of Manitoba (and a Principal Investigator at the Synaptic Plasticity and Cellular Memory Dysfunction Lab in the Division of Neurodegenerative Disorders at St. Boniface Hospital Research); and, direct from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Dr. Alon Friedman, a specialist in neurosurgery at the university’s Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheva.
 Charles (Chuck) Lafleche, President, St Boniface Hospital Foundation and co-Host of “The Health Report” on CJOB 680 is moderating the Panel. Tova and Larry Vickar are sponsoring the event.
Friedman is also Professor at the Departments of Physiology and Cell Biology at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Faculty of Health Sciences and was acting director of the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience. He is currently leading the establishment of the new Interfaculty School for Brain Sciences at Ben-Gurion University.
In 2014 Dr. Friedman was also appointed as the Dennis Chair in Epilepsy Research in the Medical Faculty at Dalhousie University in Canada. His research focuses on the pathophysiology of brain disorders, specifically the role of vascular pathology and blood-brain barrier dysfunction on the outcome of brain injury patients, including post-traumatic epilepsy, cognitive and emotional deficits.
“Our goal with the panel discussion and Dr. Friedman’s visit here is raising awareness about the serious consequences of a concussion and brain damage, the importance of early detection and prevention of diseases, like epilepsy and Alzheimer and short term memory Loss,” Karabelincoff says. “While in Winnipeg, “Professor Friedman will be meeting with local colleagues to discuss and share their knowledge and expertise for the benefit of Winnipeggers and science at large.”
One of the subjects that Dr. Friedman will be speaking about is a new diagnostic tool for visualizing and assessing the types of head injury commonly encountered in contact sports such as American football and hockey. The “dynamic contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging” technology was developed by his team at the Brain Imaging Research Center at Israel’s Ben-Gurion University and its affiliated Soroka University Medical Center.
“Until now, there wasn’t a diagnostic capability to identify mild brain injury early after the trauma,” Friedman says. “In the NFL, other professional sports and especially school sports, concern has grown about the long-term neuropsychiatric consequences of repeated mild traumatic brain injury and specifically sports-related concussive and sub-concussive head impacts.”
Friedman notes that his research team did a study involving 16 members of Black Swarm, Israel’s professional American football team, as well as a control group of 13 track-and-field athletes from BGU. They were examined using DCE-MRI, the technology invented by his team members and BGU doctoral candidates Itai Weissberg and Ronel Veksler.
“The technology is uniquely capable of generating detailed brain maps showing regions with abnormal vasculature - leaking blood vessels in the blood-brain barrier,” Friedman says. “Forty percent of the examined football players with unreported concussions had evidence of “leaky BBB” compared to 8.3 percent of the control athletes. This showed a clear association between football and increased risk for BBB pathology that we couldn’t see before.”
Friedman’s group and other medical researchers are hoping to develop drugs to repair a damaged BBB and possibly prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other neurological diseases in some patients.
 Images from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev JAMA Neurology study
The results of the study were published in JAMA Neurology and could help physicians in the decision-making process regarding treatment and when an athlete may return to the playing field.
“Generally, players return to the game long before the brain’s physical healing is complete, which could exacerbate the possibility of brain damage later in life,” said Friedman.
Jason Dzikowicz, for his part, says that he wouldn’t change anything if he had to do it all over again. “In professional sports, we are motivated to get back on the field as soon as possible,” he says. “That’s because there is always someone else who wants to take your job. Nothing would have stopped me from getting back on that field.”