The news that a group of researchers at UCLA have found a protein in the brain of living patients linked to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is being treated as “the holy grail”, but many are ignoring just how early the findings are and how far we have to go in understanding the connection.
The scientists studied five ex-football players who had documented concussions, where they found large amounts of tau proteins, which has been linked to Tay-Sachs and other degenerative brain diseases.
However, this is only the first time these proteins have been found in the brain of living individuals, and there is little knowledge yet of why they are present, or what connection the proteins may have to brain disease yet. Though Dr. Julian Bailes, the scientist from UCLA quoted as calling the findings the “holy grail”, is clearly optimistic about the findings of the biomarker, others are less convinced.
Bailes believes the discovery of the marker will lead to much earlier diagnosis and hopefully treatment for the disorder, but others estimate it will be a matter of years before that can be remotely possible.
Dr. Gary Manley, neurosurgery professor from UC San Francisco, said in the New York Times, “there’s little that substitutes for following these people for years. We are right at the very beginning of this.”
While the discovery is very possibly a leap forward, the truth is that chronic traumatic encephalopathy is not even close to being fully understood by medical researchers, which means treatment is even further away.
As for what this means for football, Will Carrol, sports injuries reporter, is nervous. The high profile of the findings, combined with widely discussed findings about traumatic brain injury in the NFL and multiple lawsuits, place the sport in a precarious position. His article at Bleacher Report urges caution, and opens up more questions about what this finding means for the near future.