CTE Research Breakthrough at Boston University Could Lead to Diagnoses in Live Patients

In the wake of Aaron Hernandez’s fall from grace, incarceration, death, and subsequent Stage 3 CTE diagnosis, the brain disease that afflicts so many football players is looming larger than ever over the NFL. Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is a neurodegenerative disease, the result of repeated head injuries. Among other symptoms, it can manifest as violent behavior, memory loss, depression and drastic changes to one’s personality. It’s been seriously considered that OJ Simpson is living with CTE; it may be the demon behind his late-90’s murder spree and other crimes. But until now, there has been no way of knowing whether or not someone is living with CTE; it can only be diagnosed in posthumously.

In a league that had 271 reported concussions in the 2016 season, CTE is not just a looming threat to any player who suits up, it’s a high likelihood; head injuries are practically guaranteed when players sign on the dotted line. This week, researchers at Boston University announced that they have identified heightened levels of a certain biomarker which could not only diagnose CTE in the living but also help distinguish CTE from other diseases. Until now, it’s only been found in testing the brain during an autopsy, which is obviously unhelpful those football players still breathing.

Getting closer to identifying CTE in the living means getting closer to finding treatments and cures for the disease, but a medical breakthrough of this magnitude will also have massive repercussions for the NFL and football across all levels. In a sport where getting hurt is part of the game, players might soon be able to get tested and treated for a disease they’d otherwise be suffering from with no diagnosis and no possible treatment. Though preventative safety should still be the NFL’s top priority, being able to diagnose CTE in live players is a huge step in the right direction towards making sure that the game they love doesn’t ruin their lives.

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