Boston University researchers said they may have found a way to diagnosis chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in living patients, according to a study released on Tuesday.
In the study, director of the CTE Center at Boston University Dr. Ann McKee and her team at Boston University found a specific biomarker— a substance in the brain that can identify an abnormality— named CCL11. CCL11 is a measurable protein used to regulate the immune system and inflammation in the human body.
“The findings in this study are the early steps toward identifying CTE during life,” McKee said in a statement. “Once we can successfully diagnose CTE in living individuals, we will be much closer to discovering treatments for those who suffer from it.”
Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed by studying the brain tissue posthumously.
The study found that out of 91 brains studied, 23 brains belonging to former college and professional football players, 18 to non-athletes and 50 brains to non-athletes diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the CCL11 levels were higher in the brains of former football players who played the game the longest.
The authors of the study said more studies are needed to determine if the CCL11 levels elevate early or late in the development of CTE and if the levels of CCL11 can predict the how severe the case will become.
The study released Tuesday follows a study released in July by McKee and Boston University researches alongside the VA Boston Healthcare System that found CTE in the brains of 99 percent of former NFL players whose brains had been donated by their families after their deaths.
In the 202 brains of those who played football on all levels, McKee’s study from July found CTE in 177.
The study also followed the annoucnement last week that former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was serving a life sentence for murder and took his own life in April, had Stage 3 CTE out of four stages.