One UCLA doctor is trying to use groundbreaking technology to try to detect the degenerative brain disease Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) while patients are still alive, Deadspin reports.CTE has been found in many former athletes who sustained numerous concussions and head injuries over the course of their lives.
But the disease can currently only be detected during autopsies.
UCLA’s Dr. Gary Small is trying to change that.
Dr. Small is a psychologist who specialises in memory decline, dementia and depression, according to his UCLA bio. He’s trying to create a biomarker, a traceable molecule that allows for the detection and isolation of a particular cell type, that would attach to tau protein. In individuals who had CTE, tau protein accumulated as brain tissue degenerated because of the repeated brain trauma that many athletes face over the course of their careers and lives.
Small is currently running a pilot program studying still brain images of retired NFL players. If he can get the biomarker detecting tao protein levels to actually work, he and doctors around the world would be able to detect and monitor CTE among current and former players.
This breakthrough would allow athletes who have suffered multiple concussions to get medical attention and support so they could maintain a quality lifestyle despite this potential brain tissue degeneration.
Former NFL All-Pro Junior Seau committed suicide on May 3 via a gunshot wound to the chest. He reportedly suffered from depression before ending his life at age 43.
Former hockey brawler Derek Boogaard made an NHL career out of trading punches; his nickname was The Boogeyman. He died in 2011 from an accidental prescription pill overdose at age 28. He suffered from depression and changes in his personality towards the latter years in his life and picked up an extremely dangerous pain killer addiction to cope with the damage his brain and body sustained. His autopsy found that he indeed had CTE.
If Small is successfully able to track tau protein levels in living people, athletes like Seau and Boogaard could receive the help and assistance they desperately need before it’s too late.
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