Everyone interested in brain injury has been buzzing about the study saying abnormally high amounts of tau proteins related to chronic traumatic encephalopathy have been identified in living humans’ brains using a new form of positron emission tomography called FDDNP PET.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries, and until this study, it had never been able to be identified in a living brain. In the past, it was only able to be found through autopsies.
This is the biggest find in brain injury in recent months, maybe even years, but it isn’t without its detractors. For one, Vascular Health Sciences points out in a press release, tau proteins are also linked to other brain injuries, such as Tay Sachs and Alzheimer’s Disease. Dr. Gary Small, the co-author of the study, defends this criticism by explaining the tau proteins were found in deeper areas of the brain than those found in Alzheimer’s or Tay Sachs.
The other issue many have cited with perceiving Small’s research as definitive is the relatively low sample size, and the inability to confirm CTE until the patients studied have died. Further research will have to happen with more subjects, and once these subjects have passed, before we can consider these findings to be set in stone.
These are the problems facing almost all CTE researchers. The main targets for study are retired NFL players and sometimes younger athletes and veterans. The low amount of people able to be asked for study limits how wide any new research can be, and many refuse. Combine this with the inability to confirm any findings with physical autopsy, and it seems we won’t be able to establish 100% confidence in this method for years.