Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Scientists Searching for Ways to Solve Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) Mystery

Photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
This microscopic slice of former Cincinnati Bengals player
Chris Henry's bain, containing a few thousand brain cells,
shows the telltale signs of CTE damage.
The front page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday had something you don't normally see on the top-third of the front page of one of America's greatest newspapers yesterday: a microscopic image.  The image was of former Cincinnati Bengals player Chris Henry's brain, contained a few thousand brain cells and showed the telltale signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

In 2002, Bennet Omalu was the first pathologist to detect CTE in a former football player. Former Steelers center Mike Webster, who died of a heart attack at the age of 50, also had CTE and a young Omalu found it. Though Omalu didn't know much about American football as a Nigerian native, he knew it was a rough contact sport. After getting wind of Webster's erratic right before his death, he thought his autopsy report might show visible evidence of brain damage. 

What Omalu found was the complete opposite. He explained in an interview earlier this year that when he opened up Webster's skull that his brain looked normal and that he thought he must be wrong. Omalu didn't give up. With permission from the Webster family, Omalu had a lab prepare the brain for microscopic examination and took a look at the slides.

Then it hit him. What he saw were smudges and tangles of tau deposits in the brain, similar to those that would be seen in Alzheimer's disease, but without the accompanying plaques of beta amyloid protein also seen in Alzheimer's. He gave the disorder the name Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which means a long-developing brain injury. 

To learn more about CTE, the new tests scientists are developing, how to treat it and much more, read Mark Roth's full report.