Latest Developments Surrounding CTE
The subject of CTE has been in the news recently, and as more medical advancements are made, doctors are hopeful that they may be able to provide a diagnosis while the patient is still alive. For the moment, the medical community is still working on understanding the brains of deceased CTE sufferers and how they can improve detection and install a treatment protocol. It has become customary for many professional athletes, especially football players, to donate their brain tissue to scientific study upon their death. These studies continue to yield interesting results and it is through these donations that future players may be able to access effective treatment in more timely manners.
The New York Times recently reported on 111 brains of former NFL players that had been donated for scientific and medical study. A recent study conducted by Dr. Ann McKee studied the brains of 202 former athletes, with 111 belonging to NFL players. Of those donated organs, all but one of the NFL players’ brains tested positively for CTE. Finding this degenerative disease that is caused by repeated head trauma in 110 of the samples was not the expected outcome of many practitioners in the neurological field. The brains ranged from players that died at the age of 23 to a player that lived until 89. The studies continue at Boston University’s CTE Center.
While the study’s lead doctors admit that there is some selection bias to the findings as the brains donated do not offer a random sampling. Still, neurologists across the country are following the results of the study very closely as the medical world gains a better understanding of this traumatic disorder. For instance, findings from this study indicate that lineman are most susceptible to contracting CTE. It is informative to note that there are currently 1,300 former NFL players and if all of those brains tested negatively for CTE, which they likely would not, that result would still yield a 9% positive result for all former NFL players, significantly higher than the rate that CTE is diagnosed or reported in the general population.
The NFL has only recently acknowledged a link between playing football and developing CTE. This recognition has led to changes in the way tackles are executed, and the league now encourages children to play flag football rather than start full-contact football at a young age. Helmets are another topic of discussion with some suggesting that innovations and enhancements to the helmets worn in the NFL would offer a greater amount of protection.
Even as the medical world moves closer to finding ways to diagnose and treat CTE in the living, the studies on deceased players have proven to be informative and impactful. Sadly, cognitive disturbances have been confirmed in football players who have only played at the high school level. While the cases are considered minor, families of the deceased report signs of cognitive deterioration and disturbances in behavior and mood prior to death. Dr. McKee is hopeful that all of this research will lead to treatment options for those who contract CTE, as well as lead to the development of successful preventative measures.