Mass Spectrometry & Spectroscopy

Can CTE Only Be Diagnosed After Death?

Nov 06 2017 Read 2040 Times

For years, chronic traumatic encephalopathy has been linked to concussions suffered during contact sports like American Football. Also known as CTE, the progressive degenerative disease can trigger cognitive impairment, impulsive behaviour, aggression, emotional instability and depression. In worst case scenarios, death. CTE is caused by repeat blows to the head, though currently diagnosis is only possible after death.

Now, a new scientific breakthrough could help doctors diagnose CTE in living patients. The exciting new study has pinpointed a biomarker protein that could be used to detect the disease in active brains. Officially known as biomarker CCL11, the non-specific inflammatory protein is significantly increased in cases of CNS.

CTE present in 99% of American football fatalities

According to a recent study from Boston University, 99% of American football fatalities are linked to CTE. The results have sparked major concerns within the scientific and sporting communities, with co-author Jonathan Cherry commenting, "With all the newer information on CTE that is coming out, it isn’t surprising many players are prioritising their long-term health. It is difficult to say how much more widespread this will become in the future".

In September, a post-mortem confirmed that former NFL player Aaron Hernandez was suffering from stage three CTE. He was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of murder in 2015, and committed suicide in April 2017. While there is no evidence that CTE was to blame, the case raised burning questions over the impact of brain trauma, especially within the NFL.   

CCL11 appears exclusively in CTE cases

While nothing is certain, the study highlights the fact that when comparing the brains of NFL players to the brains of non-athletes with Alzheimer's disease, levels of biomarker CCL11 were significantly higher. They also discovered a link between levels of the biomarker and the number of years spent playing American football.

With access to biomarker CCL11, scientists could be able to diagnose CTE early and eventually prevent and treat the disease.

"The next step is to repeat these experiments using a larger sample size and expand into using CSF from living individuals," says Cherry. Ultimately, the goal is to develop a CTE test for living patients. "A lot of work still needs to be done to validate. We’d hope such a test will be around in a couple years," he adds.

Want to know more about the latest cutting-edge medical developments? Don't miss 'Pushing the Limits of Speed and Sensitivity in Drug Screening – an LC-MS solution' for an overview of the critical role highly sensitive instruments play in forensic toxicology labs.

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