Researchers at UCLA have scored on the concussion front. In a new test for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the same degenerative brain disease that plagued Junior Seau and many other NFL veterans, a routine PET scan may be the solution to preventing another Seau story.
This means doctors will be able to make a preventative diagnosis, compared to the current posthumous test which involves studying brain slices.
The new test uses a tracer that is injected into the player before the PET scan, and essentially sticks to the tau protein that accumulates in the brain and can create CTE. Using a color scale from blue to red, the tracer shows up on the PET scan with more red showing a higher buildup of tau.
“The implications for this could be enormous. It could answer the question that a lot of players never thought to ask themselves — is it time to end a career before it’s too late?”
“Previously, we were only able to see the tragic endings. What if this let us discover that the tau burden could be reduced over time? What if these guys could walk away at the right time?”
The photo below shows some of the PET scan results from the research. It compares the amount of tau protein found in an unaffected brain to the brains of five NFL players.
So with the number of athletes diagnosed with CTE increasing, and athletes experiencing head trauma on a regular basis, the proverbial ball must be moved down the field. This is no call to end contact sports, nor a demand for better helmets, but a necessary call to awareness. This quote, from a 2010 article that Hypervocal wrote about Seau’s tragic death, remains as true today as it was two and a half years ago:
Eventually we as a society will be forced to come to grips with a modern-day gladiator problem. Concussions in football and several other major sports are churning out a generation of youngish men with significant brain damage, whether or not the NFL tries to discredit the science showing this to be true.