Brain scans might reveal concussion damage in living athletes

Researchers might be closing in on a way to check athletes while they’re alive for signs of a degenerative brain disease that has been linked to frequent head blows. Experimental scans found higher levels of an abnormal protein tied to the disease in a study of former NFL players who were having mood and thinking problems.

It’s the first time a major study has tested these scans for detecting chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which is diagnosed now only after death, with brain autopsies.

Doctors are searching for a way to tell when players, veterans or others with concussions or other head injuries are at risk for permanent damage. It’s too soon to know if the scans will enable that — so far, they show only that these athletes are different as a group; they can’t be used to say a particular player does or does not have CTE.

“We’re not there yet,” said Boston University neuroscientist Robert Stern. “It is not ready to be used for individual diagnosis in the clinic.”

He led the study, published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

“It’s an encouraging advance. It looks like they have detected CTE in living players,” said Dr. Gil Rabinovici, a neurologist and imaging expert at UCSF who is doing other research using the scans.

“It’s hugely important to be able to detect the disease in living people” to know how common it is and to research treatments, he said.

The study was done in Massachusetts and Arizona and involved 26 former NFL players with thinking, mood or behavior problems, and 31 similarly aged men without these symptoms or head injuries.

Researchers saw a relationship to years of play. “The more years of play in tackle football across all levels, the greater the amount of tau detected,” said Stern, referring to a key protein that has been implicated in CTE.


Barcelona beats Manchester United

Luke Shaw unwittingly helped Luis Suarez’s header into the net for an own goal to give Barcelona a 1-0 win over Manchester United in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal.

The Spanish champions ended a six-game winless run on the road in European knockout games stretching back to 2016, but this quarterfinal is very much still in play heading into the second leg Tuesday in Barcelona.

• Ajax wasn’t rattled by a goal from Cristiano Ronaldo at the stroke of halftime, equalizing immediately after the break to secure a 1-1 draw against Juventus in the first leg of their quarterfinal.

Ronaldo was returning from a two-week injury layoff. The second leg is scheduled for Tuesday in Turin.

NFL: The New England Patriots re-signed longtime kicker Stephen Gostkowski and added tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

Seferian-Jenkins, 25, has played five NFL seasons with the Buccaneers, Jets and Jaguars. He has played in 43 regular-season games with 29 starts and totaled 116 receptions for 1,160 yards and 11 touchdowns.

• A citation has been issued against Dwyan Morgan, 64, of Lee’s Summit, Mo., for flashing a laser at New England quarterback Tom Brady during the Patriots’ AFC Championship Game victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Prosecutors said Morgan faces a single count of disturbing the peace, a municipal violation.

Obituary: Rob Gloster, a San Francisco-based longtime Associated Press sportswriter who covered 10 Olympics, two soccer World Cups, tennis and golf majors, and other sports and news assignments from more than two dozen countries, died at 62 on Tuesday at a Bay Area hospital.

Gloster’s wife, Sharon, said he died from complications of pancreatic cancer. Gloster’s last assignment for the AP was Sunday, when he covered a the series finale between the Tampa Bay Rays and Giants.

Gloster is survived by his wife, Sharon, and two daughters, Talia and Daniela. A funeral is planned for Friday in Colma.

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