ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported Tuesday that chronic traumatic encephalopathy – or CTE — has been found in the brains of five living former NFL players.
Based on a study by UCLA in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, brains for the first time found the protein that causes CTE.
“I’ve been saying that identifying CTE in a living person is the holy grail for this disease and for us to be able make advances in treatment,” said Dr. Julian Bailes, co-director of NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Ill., and one of the study’s co-authors. “It’s not definitive, and there’s a lot we still need to discover to help these people, but it’s very compelling. It’s a new discovery.”
The study only identified two of the five players: 59-year-old Fred McNeill and 64-year-old Wayne Clark. All five had suffered at least one concussion.
CTE is the neurodegenerative disease thought to cause dementia, memory loss and depression. It was found in the brain of the late Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year.
The study could open up new areas for CTE research — and provide additional fuel for the controversy surrounding it. The ability to diagnose CTE in living patients would raise thorny questions about the need for mandatory testing and whether players at all levels can be forced to find out if they are vulnerable to a devastating disease.
The work has impressed NFL associates Dr. Richard Ellenbogen and Dr. Robert Cantu.
“This is the holy grail if it works. This is what we’ve been waiting for, but it looks like it’s probably preliminary to say they’ve got it,” said Dr. Robert Cantu, a senior adviser to the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee and co-director of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. “But if they do have it, this is exactly what we need.”
– Bill Bradley, contributing editor