Boston University researchers have identified chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of more than 91% of former NFL players participating in an ongoing study on delayed neurodegenerative disorder. Photo courtesy of Ramana Oza/Pixabay

February 6 (UPI) — Researchers at Boston University said they have identified chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of more than 91% of former NFL players participating in an ongoing study on delayed neurodegenerative disorder.

Scientists at the Boston University Center for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy confirmed in a press release on Monday that they had identified CTE in 345 of 376 players in the current study, or 91.7% of participants.

The diagnosis of CTE cannot be made on a living person and must be done after death. Athletes, especially those involved in contact sports such as hockey or football, must enroll in the study in advance by agreeing to donate their brains after they die.

According to the researchers, five clinical studies focus on CTE, and February is CTE Awareness Month.

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A 2018 Boston University study that looked at the brains of healthy people found that only one in 164 people had the disease. The only positive diagnosis was a former college football player.

Monday’s study included Super Bowl winner Ed Lothamer, former Kansas City Chiefs member and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Rick Arrington. The two teams will play each other in Super Bowl LVII in Arizona on Sunday.

Lothamer won the NFL championship in 1970 when the Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings in New Orleans during Super Bowl IV.

CTE begins with an abnormal accumulation of tau proteins in the frontal lobes of the brain. These proteins then grow and spread as the disease progresses through three successive stages. When this happens, the patient’s brain may shrink, which may be associated with dementia.

Cognitive symptoms, such as memory loss or problems with multitasking and problem solving, may show up sooner. The person may also suffer from severe mood swings and other behavioral problems.

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In 2012, former NFL player Junior So died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at the age of 43, two years after retiring from the game. The former linebacker was selected to play in 12 NFL Pro Bowls and was named UPI Defensive Player of the Year in 1992.

After his death, researchers from the National Institutes of Health diagnosed co-CTE in the brain.

“I really miss my hero,” quarterback Arrington’s daughter Jill, a former sideline reporter for several networks, said in November during the Legacy of Concussion gala.

“It hurts me to realize that his life was cut short because of the sport that he loved most. As a brain donor, part of his legacy lies in this research, and I want all former footballers to know the importance of contributing and signing…for research so that Boston University CTE Center researchers and their staff around the world can learn to heal and one day cure the disease that has devastated our family.”

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Rick Arrington was diagnosed with stage 4 CTE after he died at the age of 74 in 2021.

People who have suffered repeated blows to the head or multiple concussions may be at a higher risk of developing CTE.

“While the most tragic outcomes in people with CTE grab the headlines, we want to remind people at risk of CTE that such cases are in the minority,” Boston University Center director Dr. Ann McKee said on Monday.

“Your symptoms, whether related to CTE or not, are probably treatable and you should seek medical attention. Our clinical team has been successful in treating former footballers with middle age mental health and other symptoms.”

Boston University researchers warned that the results released on Monday do not necessarily match the comparable CTE rate among current NFL players.

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