Athletes who repeatedly suffer blows to the head face brain injuries and in the most extreme cases, death. Now, a new study has identified a biomarker that could be used to diagnosis a brain disease that affects athletes with repeated head injuries.
CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which can currently only be diagnosed after death, is a progressive degenerative brain condition found in athletes who have suffered repeated trauma to the head, including concussions. The condition has a number of behavioural symptoms including aggressiveness, depression and memory loss.
The disease is especially prevalent in American football players with a recent study from Boston University finding signs of CTE in 99 per cent of brains from deceased American football players.
While the new study may have been somewhat skewed by the fact the brains were all donated by family members who were likely to have suspected that their relative had CTE, the results still raise major concerns. Just days after the research was published, Baltimore Ravens player John Urschel suddenly announced his early retirement. Urschel, a mathematician, is now pursuing a doctorate at MIT.
“With all the newer information on CTE that is coming out, it isn’t surprising many players are prioritising their long-term health,” says Jonathan Cherry at Boston University School of Medicine, who authored the study. “It is difficult to say how much more widespread this will become in the future”.
In September 2017, a post-mortem examination found that former NFL player Aaron Hernandez had stage three CTE, with stage four being the most severe. The troubled ex-New England Patriots player took his own life in prison in April 2017 days after being acquitted in a double-murder case. He was already serving life without parole after being convicted of a separate murder in 2015. While there’s no definitive evidence to suggest that CTE lead him to commit any crimes, the case certainly raises questions over the impact of serious brain injury.