“Are you ready for some football?”
Labor Day is upon us, which means fall and pumpkin spiced lattes are here to stay. But let’s be real, if you’re a sports fan like me you know Labor Day is better known as the start of football season! Whoever your team is, football season is a great excuse to get together with friends and eat an array of hearty food while rooting on your favorite players and teams.
In preparation for the 2021 football season, I’ve been tuning into the show Hard Knocks, a reality sports documentary show featuring the Dallas Cowboys. It’s an unfiltered, all-access look at the players both on and off the field. This show has reminded me that these players have a lot more life outside of tackling and playing football. Because of this, I wanted to combine two of my favorite things, sports and medicine.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is extremely common in athletes, especially football players. CTE is a progression neurodegenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head and/or repeat episodes of concussions. It actually used to be known as the “punch drunk syndrome” because the disease was more commonly seen in boxers.
We as sports lovers need to continue to raise more awareness for CTE prevention and treatment. However the question I keep asking is, why hasn’t there been more done? If the NFL has been around since 1920 and college football since 1869, what is going on?
There seem to be two primary hurdles that CTE patients have faced up until today. One is the fact that this disease is extremely new relatively speaking. Physicians and researchers had really only seen CTE a handful of times until 16 years ago when Dr. Bennet Omalu performed an autopsy of Mike Webster, former 17+ year NFL player. Researchers basically found his entire brain had been overtaken by misfolded proteins and ultimately killing brain cells. Here we had the first observed case of CTE. And this was in 2002.
The second is that we can’t treat what we can’t diagnose. Patients are never diagnosed with CTE without doing a brain autopsy, so physicians are left to “guess” how to manage patients during their course of life. This lack of knowledge is where a majority of the pharmaceutical and biotech space has focused thus far for CTE patients. Companies are looking for the best ways to diagnose patients. Some big players are:
Outside of biomarkers and diagnostic testing research, there has been big news from a pre-clinical study trying to develop a targeted drug. Their recent study showed that brain releases a neurotransmitter called substance P in the event of a head injury, causing abnormal amounts of the tau protein to collect inside neurons. These Tau protein tangles are a feature of CTE and thus by blocking substance P with a specific drug, we can prevent the tau protein tangles from developing in the brain and causing neurological problem.
Although we are making progress, we still have a long way to go to help protect and prevent! As you settle in to watch a full day of football, consider ways to help progress concussion and CTE research further. There are several organizations that offer resource and ways to get involved including the Concussion Foundation.
Now, are you ready for some football?! Give your team a shout in the comments below!