In a finding that could eventually lead to ways to identify and perhaps treat athletes who have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Boston-based researchers announced on Dec. 1 that a new imaging technique found chemical changes in the brains of living athletes with a history of head trauma.
C.T.E., whose diagnosis in more than a dozen deceased N.F.L. players and one collegian has helped lift the dangers of sports concussions to national prominence, can be confirmed only through a specialized examination of brain tissue after death. As such, the question of whether a particular living athlete who is showing symptoms of the disease — anger control, memory loss and more — has C.T.E. has remained only gnawing speculation.
At the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting in Chicago, Dr. Alexander Lin of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston described how magnetic resonance spectroscopy scans identified biomarkers in five athletes showing signs of C.T.E. The subjects were three retired N.F.L. players, one boxer and one wrestler; their scans were compared with those of nonathletes of the same age and relative lifestyle.
“We measured the brain chemistry of men with a broad history of brain trauma and found these changes that indicate something biochemically abnormal,” Lin said. “We don’t know whether they have C.T.E. We don’t know at this point if these living changes are related.”
One of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Robert Stern of the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, expressed similar caution that these preliminary results not be over-interpreted, particularly given the public’s growing understanding of C.T.E. and its effects.
It remains unknown whether brain trauma caused the chemical changes, Stern said, something that further studies could help determine. Stern said that potential treatments would be best pursued through the identification of living people with the disease.
“This is a first step in a long process,” Stern said. “This is an initial study with a very small sample that shows us that the technology may be of use in C.T.E. diagnosis. It does not, however, suggest that we are close to being able to use the technology in the near future.”
Any proven method to diagnose C.T.E. in a living person could have major economic effects on the N.F.L. Retired players with cognitive problems still cannot prove their condition was caused by football, which has limited their ability to obtain benefits either through the league’s disability plan, state worker’s compensation or lawsuits.
Given California’s unique worker’s compensation system, which allow players who played one game in the state to file claims years after their retirement, proof that cognitive decline was related to their N.F.L. career could lead to teams’ owing millions of dollars for medical treatment (including institutional care) for each retiree.
Friday, December 3, 2010
The NY Times:
Posted by BA Haller at 8:09 AM