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Fred McNeill confirmed as first case of CTE in a living patient

This is a historical moment in the field of concussion research

Picture courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

In what is being hailed as a landmark discovery, a medical study has been published that indicates that the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (more commonly referred to as CTE) was diagnosed in a living person for the first time.

While not explicitly named in the study, doctors have confirmed that the subject of the study was former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill. McNeill passed away in 2015, but the study in question took place in 2012, three years prior to his death.

Up until now, the only way to effectively diagnose CTE has been to do a scan of the brain after a person’s passing. However, Dr. Bennet Omalu, the lead doctor for the study, found the issues with McNeill by using an experimental brain scan that can trace a particular protein that is connected with CTE.

The test is not widely available commercially yet, but in the article from CNN linked above, Omalu is hopeful that a test can be widely available in about five years, and they are attempting to raise funds to that end. Omalu and his staff have run the test on approximately a dozen former NFL players, but McNeill’s case is the first one to have been confirmed via an autopsy.

As far as what this means going forward, our friend Jeanna Thomas at the mothership has this to say about it:

For one thing, if CTE is identified in a living patient, doctors can recommend that they stop playing football. That wouldn’t change the diagnosis, but it might limit the severity of the disease as it develops.

Boston University researchers have also found a specific biomarker in the brain, which can be found in living patients, that indicates a CTE diagnosis. A biomarker is a measurable substance that highlights an abnormality. In this case, it’s a protein the body creates to help regulate inflammation and the immune system.

Although more research is needed, these two discoveries could not only help doctors diagnose CTE before a patient’s death, but could also aid in developing therapies and treatments for the disease. And that’s important and necessary progress.

This is a pretty huge discovery, folks. I’m sure there are members of our readership that are more medically inclined that can add additional insight into this matter.