Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a relatively new disease that was discovered back in 2002. It is a rare, but terrifying condition that affects a number of people throughout the world. The exact number is currently unknown. Patients who were functionally just fine become shells of their former selves.
Nowhere is CTE more prevalent than in former NFL players. There is significant statistical evidence that supports CTE happens in NFL players at a higher rate than the general population. A Boston University study showed that out of 111 former NFL players, 110 had CTE.
We have seen it in some of the greatest NFL players, such as Junior Seau who suffered from CTE. Junior Seau died by sucide when he shot himself in the chest so that his brain could be studied and diagnosed with CTE. The fact that he knew something was wrong with him and he had the awareness to preserve his brain so that it could be studied.
It might be helpful to understand what CTE is and the causes behind it in order to understand why these incredible athletes suffered tragically.
What is CTE?
An easy way to understand CTE is by picturing your brain as a wheel of cheese. A normal, undamaged wheel of cheese will be completely solid. All of the neurons will be able to effectively communicate because the wheel is not damaged at all. Someone who suffers from CTE will have a wheel of cheese that more closely resembles swiss cheese.
The effects of CTE are numerous, but they are not fully known yet. Some of the symptoms include difficulty thinking, memory loss, impulsive behavior, and emotional instability among other things. The symptoms do not develop right away, but develop over a long period of time.
Researchers who study CTE believe that the condition is caused when a person receives a number of non-concussion blows to the head. That conclusion is supported by the fact that linemen are most likely to be diagnosed with CTE. They do not suffer from jarring concussion, but they knock heads nearly every play.
Currently, there are no treatment methods to fix a person with CTE. Even worse, there are no ways to diagnose a person with CTE until they have passed away. Researchers have to carefully dissect their brain in order to diagnose that person with CTE. That can be incredibly terrifying to someone and their family members. They could notice a personality change, but there is no way to diagnose their disorder while they are still alive.
CTE Treatment Methods
As of today there are no proven treatment methods for patients suffering from CTE. The only option for patients that suspect they have CTE is to manage the symptoms. That is a shame considering the effects of the condition.
Patients can go to behavioral therapy in order to deal with the extreme mood swings. Daily memory exercises can help reduce the effects of memory loss. Pain management, such as massages, medication, and other therapies can be effective in limiting the amount of pain patients experience. These methods can be effective in the short term, however the long-term outlook for patients is grim.
Thankfully, scientists and researchers are looking into other methods to treat CTE.
Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cell therapy has already shown that it can reduce inflammation in the brain after a traumatic brain injury, such as a concussion. That is great news as the long-term effects of a concussion can be minimized if stem cells are used soon after a patient receives a concussion.
Stem cells have the ability to restore and repair damaged tissue and cells in the body. Stem cell therapy has been used effectively in a number of ailments throughout the body. If the effects of a concussion can be reduced, then stem cell therapy may be able to help heal the symptoms of CTE.
Now we may not yet be able to use stem cell therapy to completely reverse CTE, but hopefully stem cells can be used after a concussion or knock to the head. NFL teams could administer a dose of stem cells that are targeted to repair damage in the brain. A daily dose of stem cells could be the difference between developing CTE or not.
Hopefully a full fledged treatment for CTE will be developed in the future.