Friday Night Hits

Posted by Rebecca Galloway, P3 Science Communications Intern on 10 April 2015 | 0 Comments

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Seeger Weiss did a study in 2000 that focused on football players and concussions. They surveyed 1,090 former NFL players and found more than 60 percent had suffered at least one concussion in their careers and 26 percent had suffered three or more. Twenty percent said they have suffered depression because of the concussions. In late 2014, researchers from Harvard surveyed 734 college football players and asked how many concussions they were diagnosed with, how many times they thought they should have been diagnosed with a concussion but weren’t, and how many “dings” or “bell ringers” they suffered from during their playing time. The results were disturbing. Every one time a player was diagnosed with a concussion, they suspected four weren’t diagnosed, and at least 19 “dings” during playing time. The average number of undiagnosed concussions was 2.64 and 12.32 of “dings” for those 734 college football players. The average for diagnosed concussions was 0.64. In 2011, NFL stated that an unbiased trainer would be at every football game to watch out for concussions. What are these concussions doing to these football players? UCLA did a study that lead to the startling discovery of how these football players’ brains are affected by the concussions.

UCLA discovered a brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. This affects athletes that participate in repetitive contact sports. CTE causes memory loss, confusion, dementia, depression, and personality changes. “The distribution pattern of the abnormal brain proteins, primarily tau, observed in these PET scans, presents a ‘fingerprint’ characteristic of CTE,” said Dr. Jorge Barrio, senior author of the study and a professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

While looking at brain scans of former football players, the researchers discovered a similarity of abnormal protein deposits in the brains. What did all these brains have in common? They all suffered from multiple concussions while playing football. These findings could help to identify these brain disorders faster and to help doctors and scientists find cures or at least delay the progress for these players. UCLA discovered four stages that will help show and identify when CTE is occurring. 

To discover these findings, UCLA researchers used 14 NFL players that all had at least one concussion and compared them to 19 men and women with healthy brains as well as 12 men and women with Alzheimer’s disease. The participants were scanned, injected with a chemical marker called FDDNP that binds deposits for Alzheimer patients, and then with the help of PET scans the researchers could locate the abnormal proteins. Athletes with the concussions had higher levels of FDDNP around the areas of the brain that controlled learning, memory, behavior, emotions, and physical functions.

What could we do to prevent these concussions? Is football becoming too dangerous?