New Method for Diagnosing CTE

Jack Stromberg

Jack Stromberg, Section Editor

Researchers may have discovered a way to diagnose Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head. CTE can cause memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety and a plethora of other symptoms. The disease is often found in professional football players.
“CTE is different than a concussion,” athletic trainer Mike Sime said. “A concussion is a single traumatic event that leads to some neurologic-type symptoms. CTE is an accumulation of hits that lead to a collection of symptoms, which usually present themselves later on in life.”
Researchers at Boston University’s School of Medicine have identified a protein found in the spinal fluid of patients. The protein, called CLL11, is believed to indicate the presence of CTE. Prior to this discovery, the disease could only be diagnosed after the subject was deceased. CLL11 is sometimes released into the bloodstream, therefore making it possible to detect before the death of the affected patient. Now, doctors may be able to identify the disease earlier on. Finding the protein in a patient’s system may allow them to receive treatment.
However, it is not yet known conclusively whether or not the CLL11 protein is a reliable indicator of CTE. It is also not yet known if CLL11 can be used to distinguish CTE from other degenerative brain diseases.
“I don’t know where that stands as of now,” Sime said. “I think it holds some promise, but whether or not it’s definitive, I don’t know yet.”
While concussions and CTE in football players are a subject of controversy, some football players believe the risks are exaggerated.
“I would definitely say that people are afraid of concussions, and that kind of affects how many people are playing [football],” sophomore Jonathan LaFave said. “I don’t really worry about concussions, because I know I was taught good technique. I know what I’m doing, even though there’s always a possibility that it could happen.”
However, as far as preventing CTE goes, actions are already being taken.
“110 out of 111 NFL players who have donated their brains [for research] have had CTE,” Sime said. “But those are guys who grew up in a different era and played in a different era, but also played high school, college and pro, where you used to hit and tackle every single day. We’ve put a lot of things in now, like the MHSAA, and us here at Troy High, to reduce the exposure of impacts to the head.”