Researchers may have found key to identifying CTE in living patients

One of the worst aspects about Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is that it has, so far, been something doctors can only identify after someone has died.

That may no longer be the case, as researchers may have keyed in on a way to identify the disease in living patients — something they have been striving for with urgency recently.

Specifically, the “tau protein” could be the key to identifying CTE, according to Robert Stern, a professor of neurology at Boston University, speaking at a medical conference in Boston on Monday, per Ken Belson of the New York Times.

Stern revealed that a company called Quanterix “had identified elevated levels of tau proteins in blood samples of 96 former football players between 40 and 69 years old, compared with only 25 people of the same age in a control group,” according to Belson.

There is reportedly a correlation between the level of tau protein in the blood and the amount of times players get hit in the head.

“The more times they hit their head, the higher the tau in their blood,” Stern said of the football players. “If you look at the higher levels of plasma tau, you only find them in the N.F.L. players, not the control group.”

At this point, there is still much to be learned. Belson writes it may take “many years” for doctors to have the technology and understanding to reliably find CTE in living patients.

For now, however, this new step towards understanding how the body displays the disease is an invaluable step in the right direction.