From Lacrosse Captain to Neuroscientist: Honors College Student Explores the Intersection of Sports, Science, and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy

Grace Hansen

Grace Hansen in the Galapagos.

By Katharine Webster

Honors College student Grace Hansen is a biology major and captain of the UML Division I women’s lacrosse team. 

She’s also a budding researcher who is fascinated by chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain condition sometimes found in athletes who have suffered repeated head injuries. Hansen is now applying to graduate schools to study neuroscience. 

“I’ve always wanted to find a way to combine sports and science, and I think this might be the perfect way to do it,” she says. 

Hansen received a $4,000 Immersive Scholarship from the university that she used for a summer study abroad program on ecology and marine biology in the Galapagos Islands. 

Grace Hansen
“It was easily the greatest experience of my life,” she says. 

Hansen got her first research internship during summer 2022 at Burke Neurological Institute in White Plains, New York. She reviewed studies involving an enzyme that affects neurodegeneration and regeneration—and was the first author on the resulting research paper. She began thinking about how that research might apply to CTE. 

“That introduced me to the whole field of sports neurology,” Hansen says. 

For her honors thesis, Hansen is comparing biomarkers in the blood of student-athletes who are vegetarians and omnivores. 

“That’s a whole other interest of mine,” says Hansen, who is a vegetarian. “We want to see if it affects athletic performance.”