What new CTE study could mean for future athletes

Sioux Falls, S.D. - A recent breakthrough at Boston University may be able to diagnose the degenerative brain disease known as CTE. It’s commonly found in those who play contact sports like football, but not until after they've already died.

Not a lot is currently known about CTE. Experts said this breakthrough by Boston University researchers is a crucial step to better understanding the disease and one day diagnosing it in the living.

“CTE is a scary disease and again what we know from it is only what we learn about athletes after they've died,” Sanford Exercise Physiology and Sport Concussion Researcher Dr. Tyne Munce said.

New strides are being made to better understand and diagnose Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy more commonly known as CTE.

“The new study that Boston University has suggested that a biomarker, so a substance found in the blood, may be able to indicate whether someone has this disease while they're still living,” Munce said.

The disease is commonly found in players who suffered major hits in contact sports like football.

“If you see any signs or symptoms of a concussion, you pull them out, evaluate them. Our protocol is, we make sure our doctor is consulted and sees pretty much every single concussion that we have before they transition into anything athletically related,” USF Head Athletic Trainer and Strength Conditioning coach Zach Mathers said.

The USF football program said education is a big part of preventing the disease.

“It's just being really smart with how we educate how to hit and how to tackle. Educate on how to take care of themselves, educate how to get better on the off season. It’s a combination of just being smart. Training smarter and practicing smarter I think helps a ton. Every tool and every test and everything we can do, we're going to try to get it in our program as quickly as possible. That will help us out,” Mathers said.

But, if there was a way to test for CTE while still alive, would contact sports players want to know?

“I think you would have a mix. I think there would be some players that would want to know and there's others who wouldn't want to know because they would be afraid by that diagnosis and what it would mean to them. So I’ve heard from some athletes that they prefer not to know if there's nothing that can be done to help them,” Munce said.

Many wonder about the future of football if CTE can be diagnosed in a living player.

“It could really put a lot of fear and anxiety into a lot of people of wanting to play the game. But, we have to keep in mind that the same risk for that disease currently exists without a way to diagnose it. So I think overall it's definitely a positive step to be able to examine and diagnose whether someone has that disease while they're living,” Munce said.

Researchers believe there are many more years of research ahead for the degenerative disease. Munce said if they are able to diagnose it in the living, other tests like blood draws will also need to be done to determine if someone has CTE.