For the first time, researchers have discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in a living person and confirm the discovery with an autopsy after the person’s death. Dr. Bennet Omalu, lead researcher in the study, confirmed in an interview on CNN that former NFL player Fred McNeill, who died in 2015, was the subject of the case which was published in the journal Neurosurgery. Dr. Omalu discovered CTE in professional football players, but so far, the only way to definitively diagnose the degenerative brain disease is in an autopsy.
Omalu discovered the brain disease in 2002 using an experimental brain scan that identifies traces of the signature protein of CTE, which is called tau.
In a story on CNN, Dr. Omalu presented the findings from the research study to Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, and the story included video interviews with McNeill’s wife, Tia and his two sons Gavin and Fred Jr. McNeill’s family described how the symptoms of CTE began to show up in his life, and they described the downward spiral from a fun-loving family man, to a man who had memory loss, anger and depression that tore the family apart.
The Concussion Legacy Foundation describes CTE as, “a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive brain trauma. In CTE, a protein called Tau forms clumps that slowly spread throughout the brain, killing brain cells. CTE has been seen in people as young as 17, but symptoms do not generally begin appearing until years after the onset of head impacts.”
According to the available evidence on the condition, CTE is caused by repetitive hits to the head sustained over a period of years. CTE is found in athletes who play contact sports and military veterans. The Concussion Legacy Foundation lists the following occupations as being most at risk for CTE:
- Tackle football players
- Soccer players
- Ice hockey players
- Military veterans
- Victims of domestic abuse
Breakthrough in the diagnosis of CTE in a living patient
Before the new diagnostic exam, which uses a radioactive “tracer” called FDDP to bind to tau proteins in the brain which makes it visible on a PET scan of the brain, researchers had to wait until a patient who was suspected of having CTE to die, and then they could identify the condition in an autopsy. Omalu is raising money to start a phase 3 clinical trial to test the technology to see if they can duplicate what they saw in McNeill’s case. Omalu said in the CNN story that a test for CTE might be available in as soon as a few years.
Once a test for CTE is developed, doctors will be able to properly diagnose the disease and begin treatment before it progresses to the point where it robs the patient of their quality of life. A skilled Nashville traumatic brain injury lawyer from the Rocky Law Firm is ready to discuss your case if you have suffered a head injury in an accident or at work.
If you or someone you care about suffers from a brain injury from an accident or an occupational injury, call us at 615-246-5549, or fill out our contact form, and let us help you serve clients in Nashville, Hendersonville, and Knoxville.