Medical researchers looking into concussions have found signs of the protein that causes brain damage in football players who are still alive, which could lead to future preventative measures, according to multiple reports.
The discovery marks the first time researchers have detected signs of the disease in living players. Those who conducted the study at UCLA described the discoveries as a big step toward diagnosing what is known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in living patients.
"I've been saying that identifying CTE in a living person is the holy grail for this disease and for us to be able make advances in treatment," Dr. Julian Bailes, co-director of NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Ill., told ESPN.com. "It's not definitive, and there's a lot we still need to discover to help these people, but it's very compelling. It's a new discovery."
The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry published the findings on Tuesday. New imaging techniques have detected abnormal tau proteins in five retired NFL players: Fred McNeill, a 59-year-old former Vikings linebacker; Wayne Clark, a 64-year-old former backup quarterback; and three other unidentified players: a 73-year-old former guard; a 50-year-old former defensive lineman; and a 45-year-old former center.
"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 told ESPN.com.
The findings were published Tuesday in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.