Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative brain disease liked to repeated brain injuries, especially in sports. Currently the only way the disease can be diagnosed is through an autopsy examination, but a new study may have found a way to identify the brain disease in living people.
The small study, presented in a paper released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, found deposits of abnormal proteins in a pattern similar to those found in autopsies for CTE in the scans of 14 retired football players.
The technique could be a breakthrough if found to be an effective means of identifying CTE early on, which would allow for individuals to take steps to stop or slow the progression of the condition. It could also potentially help researchers understand the disease more and help athletes make decisions on when to retire, said study author Dr. Julian Bailes, co-director of the NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Illinois.
For the study, the researchers injected 14 retired professional football players with a chemical that binds to deposits of an abnormal protein associated with CTE which makes the proteins visible on a PET scan.
The study included one player with dementia, one without obvious symptoms, and 12 who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. All had a history of repeated concussions and hits to the head through football.
According to the findings, the scans of the 14 retired players were distinct from PET scans of 28 healthy participants, as well as 24 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.