Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, known as CTE, is a constant focus for NFL players. The repeated blows to the head that often happen in the game are the cause of the disorder, which can show up as dementia, depression, anger outbursts, violence or a loss of cognition. The condition eventually ends in death. In an article published in the journal Neurology earlier this month, researchers in Chicago confirmed that they had accurately and definitively diagnosed CTE in a living patient, for the first time. Former Minnesota Vikings player Fred McNeil, who died in 2015, was diagnosed with CTE in 2012 using the method detailed in the article.
Researchers developed a way to attach a radioactive tracer that attaches to the specific protein that causes CTE. After administering the tracer, a PET scan is conducted, and the tracer allows the tau proteins to light up. Until now, the disease could only be confirmed during a post-mortem examination of the brain. The technique is currently being used on about a dozen retired NFL players who have shown symptoms of CTE. Diagnosing patients while they are still alive opens up avenues for treatments or at least a better understanding of the condition and how to live with it.