Brain scans performed on five former NFL players revealed images of the protein that causes football-related brain damage -- the first time researchers have identified signs of the crippling disease in living players.
Researchers who conducted the pilot study at UCLA described the findings as a significant step toward being able to diagnose the disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in living patients.
"I've been saying that identifying CTE in a living person is the holy grail for this disease and for us to be able make advances in treatment," said Dr. Julian Bailes, co-director of NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Ill., and one of the study's co-authors. "It's not definitive, and there's a lot we still need to discover to help these people, but it's very compelling. It's a new discovery."
Dozens of former players -- including 34 who played in the NFL -- have been diagnosed posthumously with CTE, a neurodegenerative disease linked to dementia, memory loss and depression. The disease, which researchers say is triggered by repeated head trauma, can currently be confirmed only by examining the brain after death. CTE was discovered earlier this month in the brain of former Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide in May by shooting himself in the chest.