Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a neurodegenerative brain disease that most people associate NFL players who developed the illness after playing the sport. The Boston University CTE Center is leading the field in advocacy for patients and their families, having become involved in legal battles with the NFL, the NHL, and the criminal justice system. Testimony after the death of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez showed that even at a young age of 36, his brain had one of the worst cases of CTE the center doctors had ever seen. The disease is becoming more common and has been found in hockey players, jockeys, boxers, soccer players, and many military service members.
While the cause of CTE is repetitive trauma to the head, including blows that do not result in a concussion, the exact mechanism, in the brain cells and tissue, is not fully understood yet. Part of the problem is that a definitive diagnosis of CTE cannot be made until after a patient has died and an autopsy confirms the damage to the brain. The first goal of many of the CTE studies is to find an early biomarker or imaging technique to detect the disease sooner. If the condition is diagnosed in the early stages, scientists can study the mechanism of how it progresses, leading to possible treatments and drug targets.