A research study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (US) presents the results of screening 14 retired professional American football players with suspected CTE. Using a tau-sensitive brain imaging agent, [F-18]FDDNP, the California and Illinois-based researchers were able to detect the abnormal accumulation of tau and other proteins, in the distinct CTE pattern, in the brains of living subjects who had received, during their playing careers, multiple concussions and head trauma. Of the 14, one had been diagnosed with dementia, 12 with mild cognitive impairment and one with no symptoms. Previous studies, such as Robert Stern, MD‘s pathfinding research at Boston University and for the NFL (see below), have been primarily post-mortem on brains donated for research, although Dr Stern’s last presentation at NYC MedTech and Inga Koerte, MD of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU) have also used brain scan information on live subjects in their studies.
Where this differs is that the imaging agent injected binds to the tau and makes the proteins visible on a PET scan, according to the AP article. It requires far more confirming work and a more specific imaging agent. Unfortunately treatments are still experimental, but it will help athletes who are concerned about the cumulative effects of head trauma (not just in football, but also in soccer and hockey) and the DOD plus VA for soldiers subjected to IEDs but without obvious TBI make decisions about their health and future. Study: Brain scans may identify concussion-related disease (AP); PNAS (abstract only; full access to article PDF requires subscription or fee).