Diagnosing Brain Injury in Football Players Before It’s Too Late: A New Radioactive Tracer Method
Football season is again upon us! But as you cheer for your favorite team, did you know that football players may be at a greater risk for brain injury and trauma? Sam Gandy, a neurologist at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital, hopes to develop a more accurate radioactive tracer technique to uncover the truth.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative disease linked to repetitive brain injury, with symptoms ranging from memory loss to mental instability. Diagnosable only after a patient has died, CTE is frequently found in the brains of deceased football players and raises controversy on the safety of football and other contact sports. Dr. Gandy hopes to detect CTE earlier in a living patient to find prevention methods and determine the real risk of CTE in sports.
Identifying CTE is difficult because it is often mistaken for Alzheimer’s. The differences begin at the chemical level. For instance, beta-amyloid is found in Alzheimer’s patients whereas tau buildup is found in CTE patients’ brains. Doctors often use positron-emission tomography (PET) scans to examine the brain. Some have used radioactive tracers for PET scans like FDNPP to try to diagnose CTE but this tracer often binds to both amyloid and tau. Gandy’s method, in contrast, employs Flortaucipir which is more binding to tau than amyloid and offers greater accuracy. Using this method for a sample of 30 combat veterans and former football players, Gandy found that ten had clinical symptoms of CTE and eight had uncommon tau buildup. Although more trials need to be conducted, Gandy’s findings are a breakthrough in possibly diagnosing CTE in living patients.
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