Retired New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski claimed in a tweet Friday that concussions and CTE are “fixable” in response to the doctor who founded the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF).
Gronkowski revealed in an interview with CBS News that aired Thursday he had experienced “probably” 20 concussions in his life, including five in which he lost consciousness.
Gronk tells doctor CTE is ‘fixable’
Chris Nowinski co-founded the CLF and Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy in the late 2000s. It is the leading researcher of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a degenerative brain disease associated with brain trauma.
It was the CTE Center’s study that found 99 percent of brains obtained from NFL players had CTE. Nowinksi also wrote the book, “ Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis,” that was turned into a documentary.
After Gronkowski’s interview, Nowinski shared the clip about concussions on Twitter. The expert wrote he appreciates and respects the three-time Super Bowl champion to speak honestly about the issue, but “right now CTE cannot be fixed.”
Gronkowski, 31, replied Friday saying it can be.
It is fixable. I fixed mine. There are plenty of methods in this world that allow the brain to recover from severe damage. That is also why I would allow my kid to play football. https://t.co/9aI1olAdqP
— Rob Gronkowski (@RobGronkowski) September 13, 2019
Nowinski reiterated his stance, saying neurodegenerative diseases “eventually win.”
You are right about brain plasticity, and I am glad you are feeling great today, but neurodegenerative diseases (CTE, Alzheimer's, etc.) cannot be "fixed" or cured today. They eventually win. Please come on over to the BU brain bank next week and we can discuss the nuances. https://t.co/FxlzRi1BEU
— Chris Nowinski, Ph.D. (@ChrisNowinski1) September 13, 2019
Is CTE ‘fixable’?
As the leading expert in concussions and CTE said twice, no. Concussions are fixable in the short-term in that typically after time the immediate symptoms, such as light sensitivity, go away. But CTE is caused by repetitive head trauma and over time it results in memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, suicidality, parkinsonism, and eventually progressive dementia. As well as former NFL and college players, it has been found in athletes who last played in high school and in the brains of war veterans.
There’s also no way of knowing at the moment if Gronkowski has CTE, or will have it in the future. Repeated blows to the head cause a build up in the brain of the tau protein, and those changes can begin years or even decades after the last hit, according to the BU CTE Center. The only way to diagnose CTE is after death in a postmortem neuropathological analysis.
Research is ongoing. In April, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine focused on a BU researcher using PET scans to find a pattern of tau protein build-up in living former NFL players with symptoms. It found “significantly higher” levels in them than in the control group.
“This study increases significantly our understanding of CTE and gets us one step closer in diagnosing the disease earlier in life,” study co-author Yorghos Tripodis told the BU School of Public Health. “Our ultimate goal is to design treatments for CTE, but we are not currently there yet.”
Earlier this summer, former U.S. women’s national team soccer players pledged their brains to research to launch a landmark study. CTE has not been studied in women’s soccer players until now.
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