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Concussion: Dr. Julian Bailes on the Brain and the Movie

Julian Bailes, MD, Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute, is passionate about his work and understanding the impact of brain injury on brain functions. The Christmas Day movie, Concussion, is about the research conducted by Dr. Bailes and Bennet Omalu, MD, on football-related brain injury and the early cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Dr. Bailes will be played by Alec Baldwin and Dr. Omalu will be played by Will Smith.

What was your role in the movie?
This is a dramatic film portraying the story of our initial findings of football-related brain injuries and later-life neurodegeneration in players initially from 2005-2009. It goes on to show how I worked alongside Dr. Omalu in Pittsburgh, to help identify the first clinical evidence of CTE in players that included Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster.

When were you approached for the movie? What was your initial reaction?
I was approached about the movie in 2014. I was surprised.

How did Sony work with you for the film?
I was interviewed by the film’s producer and director about the timeline, facts and scientific aspects of their work. I think they made an effort to get the story straight.

Do you think the movie was accurate? How do you think this movie will aid in raising awareness of CTE?
It is an accurate and interesting movie. Concussion will hopefully aid awareness by continuing the dialogue in improving safety within football.

What are the next steps for CTE? Do you think football is safe to play?
Dr. Omalu and myself, assisted by Jack Lee, MD, Neuropathologist at NorthShore, will continue our work to help understand the effects of repetitive brain trauma and to identify it in living people. Over the past few years, we’ve made a lot of discoveries about CTE. As a result, football—from youth leagues to the NFL—is undergoing enormous change as a contact sport. In fact, I think football is safer than ever before, with less involvement of the head during both play and practice.