Possible Breakthrough in Detecting CTE in Living Patients

Print icon

Researchers at the Boston University CTE Center announced recently what they believe is a major breakthrough in the detection of the neurodegenerative disease found in people with repeated head injuries.

According to a new study, researchers now believe they may have found a way to detect chronic traumatic encephalopathy in living patients, overcoming the biggest obstacle of being able to detect the disease only in the brains of dead patients.

The study examined the brains of 23 former college and professional football players, and compared them to the brains of 50 non-athletes with Alzheimer’s disease and 18 non-athletes (as a control group). According to the study, researchers observed that [biomarker] CCL11 levels were normal in the brains of the non-athlete controls and non-athletes with Alzheimer’s disease, but were significantly elevated in the brains of individuals with CTE.   

Next, they compared the degree of elevation of the biomarker to the number of years those individuals played football and found that there was a positive correlation between those levels and the number of years played.

This is encouraging news to Dr. Mark Alberts, physician in chief of the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute, who says there are many challenges in detecting CTE in live patients.

“I agree that this biomarker study is a potentially important advance,” Alberts says. “[But] the study was limited since it looked at a small number of patients and I did not see any longitudinal data. However, if confirmed it would be a very significant advance especially for athletes at risk of CTE,” he says.

Alberts also says he was surprised to hear that former Patriots tight end and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez reportedly had a severe case of CTE found after his death. (In an unrelated study published this summer in The Journal of the American Medical Association, 110 of 111 brains of deceased former NFL players examined by a neuropatholgist were found to have CTE.)

“He was relatively young with a relatively short playing career,” he says. “In my mind, this may indicate that there are other factors besides head trauma exposure that may determine the risk and severity of CTE. Perhaps these are genetic factors or unidentified environmental factors. So, this [case] really creates more questions than answers.” 

What's New

HOCC Campaign Shows High-tech Care, Close to Home

The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) launched a major marketing campaign designed to remind area residents that they have access to the region’s best doctors and most sophisticated medical care right in their backyard. Featuring documentary-style vignettes that give viewers an inside look at some of the hospital’s highest-stakes areas...

Heart of the Matter: Colchester Woman, 47, Gets Transplant

Colchester resident Cindy Sypher had already survived one heart attack. So when she started to feel strange in a similar manner while traveling to work one morning, she took it seriously. She remembers getting herself to a local urgent care center — and nothing else until she awoke on a...

Natchaug Worker Prevents Woman from Jumping Off Bridge

When you work on the frontlines in healthcare, you’re really always on duty. For Amy Gallagher, lead clinician at Natchaug Hospital’s Joshua Center Thames Valley in Norwich, that was never more apparent than on Thursday, April 12, 2018. Gallagher was driving with her 16-year-old daughter on Interstate 91 in New...

Female doctor talking to male patient.

What is External Beam Radiation Therapy?

It sounds like something dangerous or straight out of a science fiction movie, but external beam radiation therapy is one of the best and most advanced ways to treat prostate cancer. Dr. Nicole Anderson, a radiation oncologist with Backus Hospital, says external beam radiation is recommended for many patients with...

Back Pain: What Happens with Degenerative Changes?

Back pain can have many causes – and many treatments. Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network physical therapist Dan Fisher explains why evaluation by a physical therapist can help treat the pain you may be experiencing.  Q: What are some of the common conditions associated with back pain? A: The most common...

What is Peyronie’s Disease?

Peyronie’s disease is likely something something you’ve never heard of, but affects 13 percent of all men. Dr. Jared Bieniek of the Tallwood Urology and Kidney Institute is here to explain.  Q: What is Peyronie’s disease?  A: Peyronie’s disease is  a condition. It results from scar tissue or plaque that...