Brain Trauma Can Now Be Studied In Living Patients

A research team led by Dr. Gary Small at UCLA recently published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry its development of a new method of testing for brain trauma in living patients.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a growing concern in ex-athletes who have participated many years in contact sports. In recent years, there have been several tragedies involving former NFL players, which seem to be correlated to their mental status. Current players have expressed much concern as to their potential future after being subjected to repetitive head trauma. CTE is a product of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), which includes major and minor concussions. Athletes in contact sports are at a higher risk for TBIs due to the nature of the sport.

This particular study tested five former NFL athletes who have reported a history of cognitive and/or mood symptoms. In addition, they reported having been diagnosed with at least one concussion while playing. Each former player went through several cognitive and mood tests before undergoing the new procedure.

Until this time, tests to reveal brain trauma, specifically CTE, have only been available posthumously by analyzing brain tissue. Now, the scientists at UCLA have developed a method to test for brain trauma in living patients by injecting a compound that identifies the tau protein in the brain, which can later be identified using positron emission tomography (PET). The tau protein is a proven biomarker of other mental disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.

Based on the experiments, the researchers discovered a correlation between the amount of tau protein in the brain and the number of concussions the individual sustained, as well as the level of cognitive and mood problems. The small sample size does not give statistical significance, but the results are considered to be promising. However, other researchers are skeptical, and they also warn that such a test would require years to develop.



Source: PET Scanning of Brain Tau in Retired National Football League Players: Preliminary Findings. Small, G; et al. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Volume 21, Issue 2 , Pages 138-144, February 2013.

About TRS