The only way to diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease caused by repeated head trauma that is prevalent in football players, is by examining brain tissue for signs of tau protein buildup posthumously during autopsy. That might be about to change though, as a group from Boston University may have found a way to test for CTE in living patients:
McKee and her team discovered a specific biomarker in the brains of former football players. A biomarker is a measurable substance which is, in this case, found in the brain and identifies an abnormality.
This particular biomarker is called CCL11, and it’s a secreted protein the human body uses to help regulate the immune system and inflammation in the body.
Now, the real big question here is if a CTE test becomes available and is efficacious, what will that do to football (and soccer, boxing, skiing, etc…)? I find it highly unlikely that a sport could remain in existence if more and more evidence came to fruition that the players currently on the field were doing irreparable damage to their brains. It’s one thing for the public and the sport to write off CTE as something which happens to retired players no longer taking the field (out of sight, out of mind), it’s something else entirely when the stars of today can no longer take the field because they are showing signs of CTE.