Brain injuries and their link to repeated head hits and concussions are a major concern in the football world. A study released in December of last year showed a disturbing link between head injuries and the risk of developing encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain disease whose symptoms mirror Alzheimer's.
But good news might be on the horizon. Dr. Gary Small published a study in The American Journal of Gerontology on Tuesday proving his theory correct that PET scans can track CTE in injured football players—which might even save their lives.
Gizmodo explains how the PET scan works:
"Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is caused by the buildup of tau proteins. Small's study, a pilot program which we took a close look at last summer, uses a specific PET marker (18F]FDDNP), which attaches itself to tau proteins and amyloid plaques—the two elements necessary to diagnose Alzheimer's. The study found tau in every participant, all former NFL players. Tau buildup is known to form after repeated blows to the head, even non-concussions, which happen on nearly every play in the NFL. So tracking tau buildup would allow us to see how much damage a player's brain has undergone."
The study's sample size was small—only five retired NFL players participated—so more in-depth studies and testing are needed before doctors can use PET scans to assess "tau pathologies" in patients who are already suffering head trauma.
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