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New research may lead to blood tests for brain injuries

Could a new test for concussions ultimately be able to detect signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the neurodegenerative disease that's become the focus of lawsuits by former National Football League players?

Right now, CTE, which is believed to be the product of multiple concussions endured in the name of the game, is only able to be formally diagnosed after death.

It does have visible symptoms that make a tentative diagnosis possible during life: mood swings, memory loss, depression and other mental issues--but those symptoms show up once the disease is already well on the way toward collapsing the brain from within. It's often mistaken for Alzheimer's.

There's promising research going on that focuses around the level of a protein called tau that can be found in the plasma of people who have had a recent brain injury. Those with the highest levels of tau in their blood six hours after a known brain injury are least likely to be able to return to the field within a 10-day period.

Researchers theorize that a blood test for concussions isn't far off. The same line of research might also eventually lead to a way to diagnose CTE in the living.

A definitive diagnosis of CTE would allow former athletes to hold their employers responsible for their injuries much more easily, because the disease couldn't be confused with Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's Disease or anything similar.

Right now, the NFL has its legal problems with CTE victims under control. In 2013, it settled a lawsuit brought by more than 5,000 former players over allegations that the league had purposefully withheld information from players about the long-term effects of concussions, treating the injuries as if they were nothing serious and putting players back in a game immediately after a blow to the head. The NFL promised to pay at least $675 million to former players whose symptoms made them eligible and put an additional $90 million into medical monitoring and research.

However, former football players aren't the only athletes who may be suffering from CTE. This research could lead to compensation and financial relief for athletes in the world of boxing, hockey, soccer, martial arts and other sports as well.

If you're suffering symptoms of CTE and you believe it might be related to your former time as an athlete, an attorney can help you understand your legal options.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Will a Test for Brain Trauma Protect NFL Players--or End the NFL?," Ira Boudway, Feb. 01, 2017

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