As concussion research continues to become more sophisticated, we’re getting closer to developing new techniques to help identify a concussion-related disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE.

Right now, CTE can only be diagnosed after death. But the new study offers hope that in the near future, CTE could be diagnosed earlier.

Readers may remember last week’s blog, in which I wrote about NFL rookie Chris Borland, and his decision to retire from football. He made the tough decision after learning about CTE and its prevalence among former NFL players. CTE causes progressive brain degeneration due to repeated concussions, bringing on symptoms that include memory loss, confusion, aggression, depression and progressive dementia.

The new study, which was just released this week by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on 14 retired professional football players. Twelve of the players currently suffer mild cognitive impairment. One has been diagnosed with dementia, and one has no symptoms. However, all the players had a history of repeated concussions.

According to the academy’s presentation, each of the 14 players was injected with a substance that allows the abnormal protein found in CTE to be visible on a PET scan. The resulting images differed from those of healthy people as well as those of Alzheimer’s patients. The scans of the 14 players in the study revealed deposits of the abnormal protein in a pattern resembling the patterns found in autopsies.

Using brain scans to detect the possibility of CTE would be a huge step forward. Currently, there is no cure for CTE. But better and earlier detection leaves the door open for better treatments in the future. It would also provide athletes with more information as they make decisions about their careers, their retirement and their health.


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