Researchers Make Major Breakthrough in CTE Research on NFL Players

An autopsy from a 12-year NFL veteran helped researchers with the discovery.

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Doctor and nurse examining CT scan digital tablet. (Getty)

Researchers have discovered that an autopsy confirmed a 12-year NFL veteran had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), just as a brain scan four years before his death indicted. Researchers hope this breakthrough will help their quest to diagnose the disease in the living, reports USA Today

Julian Bailes, co-director of NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Ill., has been working with scientists at UCLA to do PET scans of the brains of hundreds of former football players and military members. She told USA Today, “Our impression has been (CTE) is a very unique pattern. This is the first to have that brain specimen correlation.”

She said it was nice to get “scientific confirmation of that scientific truth.” Scientists know that there is a link between repetitive head trauma and CTE, which is a neurodegenerative brain disease. However, they don’t know why it occurs in some people and not others, if genetics or environment play a role, or how many hits to the head are too many, reports USA Today. 

Finding the answers to these questions would involve being able to diagnose CTE when someone is still alive, but right now, it can only be confirmed through autopsy.

In this new case, detailed in the journal Neurology, there were spots throughout the former linebacker’s brain that appeared damaged during a scan four years before his death. During the autopsy, tau, the protein associated with CTE, was found in the exact spots the scan had indicated, reports USA Today. The unnamed player was a defensive end in college and a linebacker for the NFL. He showed signs of behavioral and mood changes and had his brain scanned when he was 59. He developed ALS about two years later and died at 63-years-old, reports USA Today. 

Bailes said that scientists can now look for similarities, and hopefully this can lead to other clues that might one day produce a living diagnosis.

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