A study has just been released this past week in the journal of Neurosurgery where researchers announced the first confirmed diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a living person. CTE is a degenerative brain disease commonly found in athletes who participate in high-contact sports, such as football and mixed-martial arts. Up until this point, CTE could only be diagnosed following an individual's death and autopsy. If what this new study reveals becomes common practice, it means there's a potential treatment for CTE in the future.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Bennet Omalu confirmed that the subject of the study was former NFL player Fred McNeill. An autopsy following his death in 2015 confirmed the diagnosis which was made in 2012 while McNeill was still alive. Omalu is accredited with being the first to discover CTE in professional football players.
What does the study show, exactly?
When a person with CTE suffers numerous blows to the head, a protein known as tau builds up in the brain in distinctive patterns. Omalu helped create the diagnostic exam that uses a radioactive “tracker” called FDDNP to bind to tau proteins in the brain. The tau proteins can then be seen on a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
Omalu and his team are currently working on a phase 3 clinical trial to test the technology further and hope to have a commercial test out soon - possibly within five years according to CNN.
What’s the bottom line?
A diagnostic test for this would be a game changer, especially for professional football players, 99 percent of which were found to have CTE post-mortem in a study published earlier this year.