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Press Release

Philadelphia-based NDRI honors Bennet Omalu — doctor who took on NFL for danger of repeated blows to the head — with annual Service to Science Award

National Disease Research Interchange (NDRI)
Posted on: 14 Nov 16

A local health system, a Doylestown mother, a regional organ and tissue procurement organization, and a physician who captured international attention taking on the NFL with his discoveries of the dangers of repeated blows to the heads of professional athletes will be honored by the National Disease Research Interchange (NDRI) Nov. 18 at the organization’s annual Service to Science recognition awards dinner in the Logan Hotel ballroom. The evening caps off a day-long scientific symposium highlighting the need for human tissue to advance diagnosis and treatment of painful and debilitating neurological maladies, with a particular emphasis on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the distinctive neurological brain damage linked to the deaths of numerous professional athletes and military veterans.

2016 Service to Science Award

Dr. Bennet I. Omalu, the physician who first discovered and identified CTE in his autopsy of legendary Pittsburgh Steeler “Iron Mike” Webster, will receive NDRI’s highest honor, the D. Walter Cohen Service to Science Award. Dr. Omalu’s discovery of CTE in Webster and eight other deceased NFL players was initially met with great skepticism, outright rejection and ridicule.

“NDRI is privileged to recognize Dr. Omalu for his service to science in standing up for the truth, bringing CTE to a point of general acceptance, revolutionizing neuroscience research, sports medicine and safety, and the study of all types of brain trauma,” said Mary J.C. Hendrix, PhD, chair of the board of NDRI and president of Shepherd University.

Dr. Omalu’s story gained international notoriety in the 2015 major motion film, Concussion, in which he was portrayed by Will Smith.

NDRI’s Service to Science Award is named in honor of Philadelphia native D. Walter Cohen, DDS, chairman emeritus of NDRI and prominent member of the local, national and international scientific community. Dr. Cohen was dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine, president of the Medical College of Pennsylvania, and is chancellor emeritus of the Drexel University College of Medicine. Dr. Cohen will present this year’s award to Dr. Omalu.

2016 Outstanding Donation Advocacy Award

Advancements in biomedical research would not be possible without the selfless gift of human tissue. Karen Kinzle Zegel, of Doylestown, turned her grief from the loss of her son to CTE into the Patrick Risha CTE Awareness Foundation, which educates parents of school-age children about the dangers of sports-related head trauma. Along with advocacy work via the informative website, the foundation also opens avenues for brain donations for research and awareness of the prevalence of CTE in athletes, veterans and victims of domestic abuse. Mrs. Zegel will be honored with NDRI’s 2016 Outstanding Donation Advocacy Award.

“In her work to protect young brains and change a culture that values sport over safety, Karen Kinzle Zegel is an inspiration to all of us at NDRI and to our partners in the organ procurement and scientific research community,” said Bill Leinweber, NDRI President & CEO. “We are in debt for her tireless advocacy as, together, we work to support research that will unlock the mysteries of CTE and advance discovery of treatments and cures.”

2016 Outstanding Research Donation Partners Award

An NDRI partner for more than 10 years, Reading Health System’s pathology team has recovered more than 12,000 biospecimens for hundreds of research projects. The recent opening of the new Reading HealthPlex for Advanced Surgical & Pain Care promises even greater opportunity to procure other hard-to-source specimens.

Buffalo-based Unyts, a nonprofit procurement source of organs and tissue donations from generous families throughout western New York, has recovered more than 20,000 biospecimens, and is NDRI’s go-to partner for identifying donors with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and other neurological disorders.

“NDRI’s success in meeting the needs of the biomedical research community is built on strong, sustained partnerships with organ procurement organizations, eye banks, tissue banks, hospitals and patient advocacy organizations,” said Dr. Hendrix. “We are thrilled to recognize Reading Hospital and Unyts, two longtime partners that interface with NDRI on a daily basis to contribute all that they can to meet the needs of the research communities we serve.”

NDRI’s 2016 Honoring Service to Science Dinner begins with cocktails at 6:00 p.m., dinner and awards from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. Reserve seats at

About NDRI

The National Disease Research Interchange is the nation’s leading source for human tissues, organs and cells for biomedical research. By serving as the liaison between donors and the research community, NDRI is uniquely positioned to support breakthrough advances and discoveries that can affect advances in the treatment and cure of human diseases. NDRI is a not-for-profit, (501c3) corporation founded in 1980, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), public and private foundations and organizations, and pharmaceutical corporations.

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Last updated on: 14/11/2016

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