Scientists at UCLA have discovered the first truly significant research breakthrough in the study of brain trauma in quite some time: the identification of tau proteins in a living human subject. This is news that can certainly help impact the game of football in a very positive manner. From Newswise:
Now, for the first time, UCLA researchers have used a brain-imaging tool to identify the abnormal tau proteins associated with this type of repetitive injury in five retired National Football League players who are still living. Previously, confirmation of the presence of this protein, which is also associated with Alzheimer's disease, could only be established by an autopsy.
Prior to this discovery, outside of mere speculation, doctors had to wait until after the patient was deceased to determine if he or she suffered from the degenerative brain condition CTE. CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is an ailment that develops after repeated concussive, and sub-concussive, blows to the head. The symptoms are similar to those of dementia: memory loss, confusion, depression and aggression.
This is a tremendous achievement on several levels. On the pure science front, it proves that as technology improves things that were once impossible become quite doable. For those suffering from potential CTE following head trauma, this news should come as a relief. Diagnosing and treating so that those suffering can live a healthy, well-adjusted life is a plus.
When it comes to football, this news should truly re-energize those on the side of action. Older, former players will, as the technology is made available, have an avenue to discover just where they stand. Diagnosis and then treatment can follow as guys now have an answer as to what is going on inside their heads. Fighting an unknown enemy is hard; putting a face on it and understanding just how to live with it makes that considerably easier.
For other players who active in the game, getting an opportunity to check under the proverbial hood could help them make critical decisions for their career. Do you play the extra year? Where do you stand right now from a damaging proteins standpoint? Is it worth it to come back? Is it time to hang it up?
This test is still in the preliminary stages. It will certainly take some time for the techniques and technology to become more widespread. However, it is energizing news and truly beneficial information in the ongoing war to not just protect players' brains, but help guys live with the ailment. Science has won the battle against identifying the proteins in the living, but the war on brain trauma still has further to go.