|Junior Seau was discovered to have CTE after his death. (Getty)|
As researchers continue to study the relationship between football, brain injuries and the effects of both on former players, it previously was believed the proteins that show signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy could be discovered only after death.
But according to ESPN's Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada, researchers at UCLA have used brain scans to find the tau protein in five living former NFL players.
Potentially, this is a huge discovery.
"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," Dr. Julian Bailes of the NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Ill., and one of the study's co-authors, said, via ESPN. "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."
Players like Junior Seau, Chris Henry, Dave Duerson and Ray Easterbrook were discovered to have CTE after their brains were studied following their deaths (all but Henry committed suicide, and Seau and Duerson shot themselves in the chest, presumably so their brains could be donated for research).
But UCLA researchers studied the living brains of 59-year-old former Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill and 64-year-old former quarterback Wayne Clark -- who was a backup in San Diego, Cincinnati and Kansas City -- along with three unidentified former players (a 73-year-old guard, a 50-year-old defensive lineman and a 45-year-old center). According to the report, each had suffered at least one concussion, and the center had suffered 10.
"The findings are preliminary -- we only had five players -- but if they hold up in future studies, this may be an opportunity to identify CTE before players have symptoms so we can develop preventative treatment," said Dr. Gary W. Small, another of the study's co-authors.
Said Dr. Robert Cantu, who also has been on the forefront of studying the brains of former NFL players: "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. But if they do have it, this is exactly what we need."
The reason this discovery could be so huge? As Fainaru and Fainaru-Wada write, “Active players who show signs of CTE could use the information to make decisions about when to retire and thus prevent further injury, according to Bailes. He said additional research involving a much larger number of players is needed before that can happen.”
Make sure to read the entire story, as well as this NY Times piece. This could be some of the most important NFL concussion news in quite some time.
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