Up until now chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has only been diagnosable after death, but a pilot study done by researchers at UCLA on five former NFL players has created significant progress in diagnosing CTE in living patients, according to ESPN's Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada.
Per Fainaru and Fainaru-Wada's report, brain scans of the five former players showed images of the protein associated with CTE. This being the first instance of signs in living patients, Chicago neurosurgeon and study co-author Dr. Julian Bailes has described these findings as the "Holy Grail" for treatment (per ESPN):
I've been saying that identifying CTE in a living person is the Holy Grail for this disease and for us to be able make advances in treatment. It's not definitive and there's a lot we still need to discover to help these people, but it's very compelling. It's a new discovery.
According to the report, each of the five players studied suffered at least one concussion during his playing career, with one player sustaining 10 concussions.
A degenerative brain disease, CTE has been linked to multiple symptoms, including memory loss, dementia and depression, according to Boston University. The disease is caused by repeated head trauma over an extended period of time and has been found in higher numbers among athletes, especially those participating in football and boxing.
Over the past few years, CTE studies have been done on numerous former athletes, and the NFL has attracted a bevy of attention due to the sport's link to long-term brain damage.
The findings at UCLA come a little less than two weeks after CTE was found in the brain of former NFL linebacker Junior Seau by the National Institutes of Health, as reported by ABC News and ESPN. Seau, who played for 20 seasons in the NFL, committed suicide in May of 2012, and his brain was studied at the request of his family.
Those findings on Seau were consistent with previous studies, which have found a total of 34 former NFL players who suffered from CTE prior to their deaths (per ESPN).
If finding signs of CTE in living athletes is indeed the "Holy Grail" as Dr. Bailes stated, Tuesday's report could go a long way toward helping solve a debilitating disease for former athletes. For more on the topic, read this assessment by B/R's sports injuries lead writer, Will Carroll.