Scientists, for just the first time, think they have been able to detect a protein in living patients that grows inside the brains of people that suffer from CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy. CTE is a neurodegenerative disorder that is tied to repeated injuries to the brain that afflicts military veterans and football players.
Prior to now, doctors only diagnosed CTE during an autopsy based upon the presence of the protein known as tau. However, researchers at UCLA published a paper on Tuesday that said they believe they have been able to identify tau in five former NFL players who are still living.
The study only had a limited number of participants therefore scientists were unable to definitely make a determination that the protein was actually tau.
However, brain researchers have said the findings have opened new doors for the diagnosing of CTE in people while they are living. That possibly could lead to researchers and doctors developing therapies that target the tau and pinpointing the patients who would benefit from psychological and cognitive therapies at an early stage.
The recent study looked at just five former players in the NFL whose ages ranged from 45 to 73. All five men had histories of cognitive and mood problems. A chemical marker known as FDDNP was injected into each participant. The marker fastens itself to the tangles of beta amyloid plaques and tau protein, which are both signs of possible Alzheimer’s disease.
At that time, PET scans were performed, which is a type of imaging, in order to track the marker. Researchers compared the brains of the five participants with brains that were healthy and the athletes’ brains showed the marker congregating in the subcortical and amyggala regions, which are the same areas that scientists have located tau in autopsies. Those regions involve emotion, cognitive and motor skills.