While much of the concussion research around football recently has focused on CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, another scientist is looking at the link to Alzheimer’s disease.
The Denver Post talked to Dr. Barry Jordan, the assistant medical director and director of the Brain Injury Program at the Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains, N.Y., who is trying to find out why some former players develop CTE and some do not.
The recent breakthrough of finding “tau proteins” in the brains of living players might do more than help CTE research, Jordan said. It might help doctors know more about Alzheimer’s. The same tests that allowed doctors to know Junior Seau took his life because of brain damage eventually could help Alzheimer’s patients.
“A lot has to be done, but we’re heading in the right direction,” Jordan said. “I think we may be years away, but not many years. This is also the direction of Alzheimer’s research. Because if they find ligand that tags this abnormal protein tau, that’s also going to be important in Alzheimer’s research.”
Jordan said a recent UCLA study, which detected CTE in five living former players, is “very preliminary.” The former players were given a compound developed at UCLA for Alzheimer’s research, called FDDNP. The compound is designed to attach itself to the tau protein and can be detected during a PET (positive emission tomography) scan.
“The PET scan will label this abnormal protein in the brain we call tau, but it doesn’t just label tau, it labels another protein amyloid, which is common in Alzheimer’s disease,” Jordan said. “So the idea, theoretically, is correct, but that might not be the best agent to use for that test. There is still a lot of work to do.”
Jordan said it might be possible to one day slow the development of CTE.
“What’s needed are well-designed studies looking at a representative sample of athletes,” Jordan said. “That way we will get an idea of the epidemiology of the situation and see what we’re dealing with.”
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor