Tuesday, January 22, 2013
UCLA conducted a pilot study where they scanned the brains of five former NFL players and found images of the protein that causes football-related brain damage. This discovery marks the first time researchers have identified signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in living players, and should be a big step towards being able to diagnose this disease in living patients.
Dozens of former players, including 34 former NFL players, have been diagnosed with CTE after death. Currently, posthumous examination of the brain is the only way to confirm the disease. CTE is a neurodegenerative disease linked to dementia, memory loss and depression, and it is triggered by repeated head trauma. The disease is caused by a buildup of tau, an abnormal protein that strangles brain cells as it builds up.
Funded by a $100,000 grant from the Brain Injury Research Institute, UCLA researchers used a patented brain-imaging tool to examine 59-year-old Fred McNeill (former Vickings linebacker), 64-year-old Wayne Clark (former backup quarterback), and three other unidentified players. The scan lit up for tau in all five former players and the protein was concentrated in areas controlling memory, emotions and other functions--consistent with the pattern found in CTE brains studied after death. This study could open up new areas for CTE research as well as new areas for discussion about need for mandatory testing for this disease.
See Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wanda, CTE Found in Living ex-NFL Players, ESPN.com, Jan. 22, 2013.