There is finally a "ray of hope" that one day CTE, the mysterious brain disease ravaging the NFL, may be treated. Boston University researchers have found a biomarker for chronic traumatic encephalopathy that can be detected while a patient is still alive, reports the Washington Post. Previously, CTE could only be confirmed in a post-mortem brain exam, notes CBS Local. The study in PLoS ONE compared the brains of 23 football players, ages 25 to 87, to 50 non-athletes with Alzheimer’s disease, and a control group of 18 non-athletes. Researchers reported "significantly" higher levels of CCL11, a protein linked to age-related cognitive decline, in the group of ex-players, and those who played longer had higher levels. What's also notable here: The elevated CCL11 levels weren't present in Alzheimer's patients, meaning scientists could ostensibly differentiate between patients with Alzheimer's and patients with CTE.
More study is needed, but the hope is that the results could lead to early detection that could help millions of athletes across many sports, per CBS. Lead researcher Dr. Ann McKee tells the Post she's been "frustrated for years" by critics who contended that aging, not CTE, is to blame. "This is the first demonstration that shows it's … a distinct disease, and we’re going to exploit the uniqueness of this disease to find treatment." She continues: “We’ve been going down, and everything has just gotten more and more depressing. And now it’s like, 'Yeah, we’re going to actually find some answers here.'" A rep for the NFL, which has ponied up $40 million for research, tells the Post the findings are "certainly important." (A concussion doctor says he'd "bet my medical license" that OJ Simpson has CTE.)