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Breakthrough could lead to CTE diagnosis in athletes while alive

Researchers are closer to the possibility of diagnosing the neurodegenerative brain disease CTE in patients while they are still alive, according to a new study published Tuesday.

A team from the Boston University School of Medicine and VA Boston Healthcare System found a chronic traumatic encephalopathy biomarker, called CCL11, was “significantly elevated” in the brains of former college and professional football players who were diagnosed after death as having CTE.

The study of deceased individuals also found CCL11 levels were higher in the players who had spent more years on the field.

The research is early. The findings are based on a study of brains from 23 former football players, 50 non-athletes with Alzheimer’s disease and 18 individuals who were not athletes and did not have Alzheimer’s. And, it is not yet known if identifying CCL11 is an early or late sign of CTE.

The researchers believe they can identify this biomarker in living individuals as a way to diagnose CTE.

“Once we can successfully diagnose CTE in living individuals, we will be much closer to discovering treatments for those who suffer from it,” said Dr. Ann McKee, one of the authors of the study and director of the Boston University CTE Center.

CTE causes symptoms similar to those seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease including memory loss, confusion, aggression, rage and suicidal behavior. The disease, which can only be diagnosed by studying an individual’s brain after death, has been diagnosed in a number of former NFL players, but has also been diagnosed in athletes from other sports and veterans.