Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 1/22/13
Researchers took a huge step forward Tuesday in discovering the correlation between concussions in football and permanent brain damage. A study at conducted at UCLA discovered the early stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the brains of five former NFL players, the first time signs of CTE have been detected in living patients. “The findings are preliminary — we only had five players — but if they hold up in future studies, this may be an opportunity to identify CTE before players have symptoms so we can develop preventative treatment,” Dr. Gary W. Small, the study’s lead author and a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, told ESPN.com. CTE is a degenerative brain disease brought on by repeated blows to the head and has been found to cause memory loss and severe mood disorders, most notably depression. The disease, to which athletes in collision sports such as football and hockey are most susceptible, has also been identified in the brains of several former athletes who have committed suicide, including longtime NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard and former Chargers, Dolphins and Patriots linebacker Junior Seau. With Seau’s postmortem diagnosis of CTE in earlier this month, 34 ex-NFL players have now been found to have had the disease, which as of now can only be confirmed posthumously. Those involved in the study were former quarterback Wayne Clark, former linebacker Fred McNeill, and a former guard, former center and former defensive lineman that were not identified. All were said to have experienced between one and 10 concussions in their careers. Though the research is still in its early stages, members of the NFL’s Head, Neck and Spine Committee are very enthusiastic about this latest development, with the committee’s senior adviser, Dr. Robert Cantu, calling it “the holy grail if it works.”
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