The brain of Aaron Hernandez will be donated to an academic center that studies traumatic brain injuries and their link to football, PEOPLE confirms.
Earlier this week, authorities performed an autopsy on the former NFL star who committed suicide in prison on Tuesday. According to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Massachusetts, Hernandez’s body was released on Wednesday, but his brain was withheld until investigators could determine how the 27-year-old died.
“Now that the cause and manner of death have been determined, the brain will be released to Boston University’s Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center as Mr. Hernandez’s family wishes,” the Medical Examiner said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. “The center studies a progressive degenerative brain disease found in some athletes who have experienced repetitive brain trauma.”
The research center will perform tests to determine whether Hernandez suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to head trauma. The disease has been found in dozens of former NFL players.
Symptoms of CTE can include aggression, depression, diminished impulse control, memory loss, impaired cognitive skills, and suicidal tendencies.
CTE cannot be diagnosed in living subjects; it is only found during autopsies. Several former NFL players, including Junior Seau, were diagnosed with the disease after committing suicide.
The center declined to give details about the tests that will be performed on Hernandez. “We cannot discuss any potential, ongoing or completed research cases without specific consent from the family,” Maria Ober, Director of Communications for the Boston University School of Medicine, said in a statement to PEOPLE.
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A former tight end with the New England Patriots, Hernandez committed suicide just five days after he was acquitted of double murder charges in the deaths of two men outside a Boston nightclub in 2012.
He was still serving a life sentence for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd, his fiancée’s sister’s boyfriend. He was not eligible for parole.
Hernandez was found hanging from a bed sheet in his cell shortly after 3 a.m. on Wednesday. He had shoved cardboard in his door to prevent authorities from quickly entering the cell to save him. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.