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Arizona researchers attempt to detect CTE in living former NFL players

Trumaine McBride #38 of the New York Giants is injured afterthis helmet to helmet hit against Nelson Agholor #17 of the Philadelphia Eagles during their game at MetLife Stadium on January 3, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Getty Images Photo/Al Bello)

PHOENIX – Arizona researchers contributed to a recent study of former pro football players in an effort to diagnose a degenerative brain disease in living patients.

“This study provides the first evidence of this condition called CTE in living players, and it provides a foundation for us to learn a lot more about what is happening following repetitive head impacts,” Eric Reiman, executive director of Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Monday.

According to the Arizona State University Biodesign Institute, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly known as CTE, is associated with repeated blows to the head. Symptoms of the condition include anger, lack of impulse control, depression, suicidal thinking and paranoia.

Several former NFL players who died by suicide were found during autopsies to have been suffering from CTE, including Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Andre Waters.

“The fear of this condition has outstripped the amount of information we have about it at this time,” Reiman said.

“We need to understand more about the consequences of football play and other situations in which people are exposed to frequent head impacts.”

While doctors can diagnose living people as being likely to have CTE, it can’t be confirmed until the brain is examined during an autopsy.

A national team of researchers, including representatives from Arizona State University, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute and the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Phoenix, published the results of a CTE study last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers used experimental positron emission tomography (PET) scans in an attempt to detect a brain abnormality — the accumulation of abnormal tau protein — associated with CTE in 26 living former NFL players experiencing the disease’s behavioral symptoms.

“We found small but significant elevations in this abnormal protein tau that has been reported after life in NFL players,” Reiman said.

“We found that it was associated with years of football play, and we didn’t find any evidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the players.”

Reiman said the findings, while promising, are “too subtle” to be used for making a diagnoses or creating a treatment plan.

“But we think that it provides a fantastic foundation for learning more about this problem,” he said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Madison Spence contributed to this report.

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