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Brain Disease Signs Are Seen in Live Patients for the First Time

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a brain disease linked to multiple concussions or brain brain traumas. The condition, which is often associated with professional football players, has traditionally been diagnosed only after a patient's death. A new study could change that.

A recently released study found signs of CTE in five living former National Football League players, including a California man, with a history of brain injuries. This is the first time CTE signs have been seen in live patients. The signs were found using scanning that relies on low-dose radioactivity. Players were injected with a compound developed for Alzheimer's disease research. It attaches itself to tau proteins. Clusters of tau proteins are a key indicator of CTE.

Until now, CTE has been diagnosed using a microscope to analyze cells found in cross-sections in the brain for a buildup of tau proteins. The brain of Junior Seau, a former NFL linebacker who shot himself to death last year, showed signs of CTE through this form of testing. While the study is small, and more research is needed, the study is a potential breakthrough. By being able to diagnose the disease before a patient dies, scientists and medical professionals may be able to find ways to treat it, especially in the disease's early stages. That would be a major breakthrough not only for former NFL players, but also soldiers at risk of CTE because they were exposed to blasts and other people who have suffered multiple head traumas.

  • USA Today, "Study gives hope for brain disease treatment," Gary Mihoces, Jan. 22, 2013
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