NFL Star Was 1st Living Person Diagnosed with CTE

Football at NFL game

Football at NFL game

The scans indicated the presence of tau, a protein that builds up over damaged brain cells.

That's according to research reported Thursday by CNN, which cited Dr. Bennet Omalu, the first to publish studies on CTE in football players, in identifying former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill as a victim of CTE.

The former players had first been scanned four years ago, and per the report, more studies will be required to validate this initial finding from the deceased subject studied.

Amid criticism from the Concussion Legacy Foundation and concerns from retired players and their families regarding payouts from a $1 billion concussion settlement, the National Football League is now faced with the reality that chronic traumatic ecephalopathy (CTE) can potentially be diagnosed in living patients. In a paper published last week in the journal Neurology, the Evanston researchers confirmed that one of the cases they diagnosed with CTE while the patient was alive came back positive for the disease on examination after death.

Omalu first presented these findings exclusively to CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta in 2016.

To date, the only way that CTE can be definitively diagnosed is after death. That's kind of what happened for us. A buildup of tau in the brain, caused by multiple concussions, clogs neural pathways and causes memory loss, mood swings and in severe cases, severe depression and suicidal thoughts.

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Brain scans are just one diagnostic tool scientists are trying to develop to combat CTE.

The brains researchers examined for this study were donated by families of players who had experienced symptoms associated with CTE. Parents need to understand that the evidence provided of repetitive head trauma from football can lead to CTE, and they should keep that in mind before encouraging their children to participate in contact sports such as this.

The diagnostic exam uses a radioactive tracer to bind to tau proteins in the brain. It has a "specific topographic signature", he said, and that pattern can be detected in imaging.

Omalu and his team of researchers are now looking to raise money to move on to a phase 3 clinical trial to further test the technology and possibly replicate what they found in McNeill. He anticipates that once funds are raised, it will take another two to three years for the trial and then another year, at least, for approval from the US Food and Drug Administration.

While more evidence is needed to further confirm the findings, doctors and researchers are hopeful that the information could prove to be helpful to earlier recognition of the symptoms of CTE, the Chicago Tribune said.

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