Fresh off the news that former Patriots tight end and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez was found to have the most severe case of CTE ever found in a person his age comes some hopeful news with regard to this ongoing medical issue.
The Chicago Tribune reports that for the first time ever confirmation that a living person, in this case a former NFL player, has been accurately diagnosed as suffering from CTE.
Four years ago, researchers from Evanston’s NorthShore University HealthSystem and other scientific organizations announced they had used brain scans to detect the hallmark of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in ex-NFL players while they were still alive — a technique that promised to spur more accurate diagnoses, and possibly new treatments.
According to Dr. Julian Bailes, a NorthShore neurosurgeon, the confirmation they were seeking has occurred.
In a paper published last week in the journal Neurosurgery, Bailes and other researchers reported that one of the former players who underwent a scan had his brain examined after he died — and sure enough, the tissue revealed he had been suffering from CTE.
More research is needed to corroborate the result, but if it holds up, Bailes said it could be a pivotal step in finding a way to help people with the condition.
“If there’s ever a treatment developed, you can test the response to it,” he said. “If you can trust the scans, you can tell a football player he shouldn’t keep playing, or tell someone in the military he can’t (be exposed to) explosions.”
The paper doesn’t say who the NFL player is, but, according to the Tribune, it is believed to be Fred McNeill, a former Minnesota Vikings linebacker who died in 2015.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, the CTE researcher played by Will Smith in the movie Concussion, who is the lead author on the Neurosurgery paper, previously told CNN that McNeill underwent the tau-detecting brain scan.
As good as this news is, Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, a neuroscience researcher at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, says she wasn’t convinced, based on the tissue images included in the Neurosurgery paper, that the ex-NFL player actually suffered from CTE.
She says that Tau can also mean the signs other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and can even be present in healthy brains.
Whether findings such as these will ever truly be able to diagnose CTE in living people remains to be seen, as well as whether or not the damage caused to the brain by playing football will ever mean the end of the NFL as we know it today.
As none other than Bob Costas, former host of Football Night in America, said recently, “The cracks in the foundation are there. The day-to-day issues, as serious as they may be, they may come and go. But you cannot change the nature of the game. I certainly would not let, if I had an athletically gifted 12- or 13-year-old son, I would not let him play football.”