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The Risky Business of Football
By Paulette
3/1/2013 12:24:00 PM
Discussion on the long term neurological effects of concussions has been brought into the spotlight with recent events in the news. Many former NFL players are being diagnosed with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) a degenerative neurological disease which manifests with symptoms such as memory loss, depression and dementia. CTE is caused by defective Tau proteins that form tangles and disrupt messages between brain cells (a pathology that is similar to that of Alzheimer's Disease). Studies have shown that CTE is connected to head trauma. Researchers at Boston University examined the brain tissue of 85 people who had suffered mild traumatic brain injuries, including 28 former football players (15 from the NFL). The rest were comprised of ex-hockey players, boxers or military veterans. 68 out of the 85 were found to have CTE. CTE can only be diagnosed after death, but current studies are using PET scans to test for evidence of the Tau protein biomarkers. A small study at UCLA headed by Dr. Gary Small using five former NFL players who were suffering from mood swings, depression or cognitive issues showed tau pathology in the brains of the participants during their scans. In May of last year, retired NFL player Junior Seau committed suicide. Prior to his death he suffered from chronic insomnia and depression. Tests performed on his brain after his death showed he had CTE. Another former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson committed suicide after struggling with a decline in his mental health. In a haunting text message sent to his wife just before he shot himself in the chest, he asked that his brain be donated for research. Test results showed that Duerson also had CTE. In June, over 2000 former NFL players filed a suit against the league for concealing information about the long-term cognitive effects of head injuries received during game play. Concerns are mounting over current players being thoroughly examined for concussions when injured during a game.The difficulty is that many players will say they are fine in order not to be pulled from the game or benched for future games. The NFL is planning to have independent neurologists present at games to determine if players need to be removed and treated. Debate continues on how this will affect the game and how effective it will be. What does all of this mean to the future of the game and to other risky sports? Will we find better ways to prevent concussions? Will the franchises work to educate players and find ways to make players safer from brain injuries? Will neuroscientists and researchers be able to find ways to treat traumatic brain injuries and the cognitive degeneration that results from them? The positive note of all of this is that because of the high profile of the NFL cases, more research is being done that could benefit millions of people who sustain brain injuries.   References: Small, Gary et al. PET Scanning of Brain Tau in Retired National. American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. 21 Feb 2013.Volume 21, Issue 2, 138-144. Mckee, Ann C et al. The Spectrum of Disease in Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Brain. 2 Dec 2102. 1-22.    

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