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Researchers may have found a way to detect CTE brain injuries while the patient is still alive using a new brain scan. If it is approved by the FDA, this procedure could change the treatment and careers of many professional athletes.
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a condition caused by repeated head trauma. Over the course of years, or even decades, the disease can affect people’s mood, temperament, decision making abilities, and ultimately their ability to live their lives. But there isn’t any treatment for the disease, in part because patients cannot be diagnosed until an autopsy is done of their brains after they die.
CTE was first discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu, who was investigating the brains of professional football players. It has since been confirmed in other professional athletes including hockey players, boxers, wrestlers, and even jockeys. These discoveries have prompted a number of class action lawsuits against professional sports leagues for their part in concealing the dangers of repeated head trauma.
None of the lawsuits or the research have been able to bring relief to the athletes currently suffering from the symptoms of CTE. But now a new study may be making headway. Samuel Gandy of Mount Sinai Hospital’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York City has found a new brain scan technique that he believes lets him see CTE in the brains of living athletes.
Patients in Gandy’s test were given a substance called T807. The ligand – a molecule that attaches to metal in the body – binds to receptors in the patients’ brains and shows up in subsequent CT scans as blotchy red-yellow images. Using those brain scans, Gandy and his team could clearly see the same kinds of brain injury usually identified in the autopsy of a CTE patient. While the ligand is not yet FDA approved and requires significantly more testing, it could provide a breakthrough for CTE treatment. Robert Stern of Boston University told the New York Daily News:
“It’s huge. . . . We want to be able to detect it really early, so we can intervene, slow it down or stop it in its tracks.”
Stern is also using T807 in research grants funded by the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. He hopes to be able to find a way to detect CTE early in an athlete’s life and stop the disease before it causes too much brain damage.
The athletic associations are not eager to see the outcome of this research. The National Football League tried to defund Stern’s research after he provided an affidavit in an ongoing lawsuit saying that many of the deceased NFL players with CTE wouldn’t qualify for compensation under a proposed settlement. Fortunately, NIH decided to fund these CTE projects on its own, ensuring that this important research can continue, for the benefit of anyone suffering from repeated head trauma.
David Christensen is a brain injury expert with Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He represents the victims of traumatic brain injuries against auto insurance companies to make sure their treatments are paid for. If you have suffered a traumatic brain injury because of a car crash, contact Christensen Law today to schedule a free consultation.