This slide from UCLA shows the buildup of tau protein (red) in two former NFL players' brains.While concussions are perhaps the most crucial issue facing football at all levels today, most of the discussion of their long-term after-effects (and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in particular) has centred around post-mortem autopsies of former players. That may be about to change, as a new UCLA study appears to have found the first evidence of CTE in living players, and that could have huge implications for football in both the U.S. and Canada. From ESPN's Mark Fainara-Wada and Steve Fainaru, who have been doing great work on the concussions front, here's why this new study (published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry Tuesday, available as a PDF here) matters so much:
Brain scans performed on five former NFL players revealed images of the protein that causes football-related brain damage -- the first time researchers have identified signs of the crippling disease in living players.
Researchers who conducted the pilot study at UCLA described the findings as a significant step toward being able to diagnose the disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, in living patients.
"I've been saying that identifying CTE in a living person is the Holy Grail for this disease and for us to be able make advances in treatment," said Dr. Julian Bailes, co-director of NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Ill., and one of the study's co-authors. "It's not definitive and there's a lot we still need to discover to help these people, but it's very compelling. It's a new discovery."
The study examined five former NFL players using a patented brain-imaging tool, all of whom had sustained at least one recorded concussion during their careers, and it found tau protein (the key evidence for CTE) in each of their brains. What's interesting is how differently they've been affected, though. Fred McNeill, a linebacker who played with the Minnesota Vikings for 12 years, is already suffering from early-onset dementia at 59 and is largely looked after by his family and caregivers, while 65-year old former Chargers, Bengals and Chiefs' quarterback Wayne Clark said "I don't feel like I'm suffering from any real symptoms at this point."
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