Promising test to detect signs of brain disease in live 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 National Football League 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 now is diagnosed 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 has 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.

Marilynn Marchione is an Associated Press medical writer.

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Promising-test-to-detect-signs-of-brain-disease-13758410.php.

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