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New Tests for Brain Trauma Create Hope, But Is It Premature?

Thousands of former professional football players have claimed they incurred severe brain trauma from injuries on the field. Since these claims and the lawsuits that followed, several medical professionals have seized the chance to develop assessments for brain damage. Many experts say the validity regarding such claims of accurate brain damage assessment techniques are premature and as such, unfounded.

Previously, it was widely believed that chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E. for short, could only be diagnosed posthumously from analyzing brain tissue. Most researchers still believe this to be true. At UCLA however, some researchers have recently developed a test that they are alleging could identify the condition in a living person via injection of a compound that clings to proteins in the brain and later actually appears in a PET Scan. Many medical professionals remain skeptical of these claims.

Robert Stern could be considered one of those skeptics, noting “My fear is the people out there who are so much in need, scared for their lives and desperate for information, it might give them false hope,”. Stern, a professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine and a founder of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy stated “ There has been so much hype surrounding C.T.E., so there is a real need for making sure the public knows that this type of science moves slowly and must move very carefully. Currently, Stern is part of a group that is developing a different biomarker to identify tau, the protein that is a hallmark of C.T.E.”

Recently Tony Dorsett, a Hall of Fame Running Back for the Dallas Cowboys, as well as other prominent former players claim they were found to have C.T.E. after having the experimental test developed by U.C.L.A. Since these claims were made by Dorsett, the debate over the validity of such brain exams has intensified. Dorsett, 59, told CNN that his memory lapses, short temper and moodiness were “all because of C.T.E.” and that “they came to find out I have C.T.E.”

Neurologists, researchers and bioethicists question whether the doctors at U.C.L.A. and at TauMark, the company with the exclusive license to commercialize the test, may leave some with false hopes or undue worry. TauMark, which has helped find former players to take the test, states on its website that the test could soon provide a “clinical diagnosis and summary.” One of the doctors backing TauMark even called the test “the holy grail of C.T.E.”

Although called a diagnosis, the experimental test is actually likely years from gaining federal approval. An antidote is even more unlikely in the near future because C.T.E. is a degenerative condition with no current known cure.

This test is certainly not the first one promoted as a new window to an emerging medical problem. Several medical experts are now creating and marketing treatments for former players that include vitamin regimens, strict diets, testosterone treatments and other therapies. A successful test to identify C.T.E. in living patients could also provide a big payoff for its inventors and rights holders.

For example, Dr. Daniel G. Amen, the founder of Amen Clinics Inc., said this year that he had developed “an interventional strategy” that would “reverse brain damage” in athletes. Additionally, former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar received oral and intravenous treatment for brain trauma from Rick Sponaugle. Sponaugle is the director of the Sponaugle Wellness Institute in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Diagnosing C.T.E. in living players would have potential legal and financial consequences as former players fight for insurance coverage, workers’ compensation and other medical benefits well after getting injured.

Just remember: Quick fixes in medicine are rare, even when fortunes are being spent developing solutions. For C.T.E., which still lacks a clinically accepted diagnosis among living people, let alone a biomarker approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the answers are even more elusive. We regularly represent injured victims of negligence when they suffer a traumatic brain injury. Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA is available for a free consultation to discuss the impact of serious trauma. Call us at 727-451-6900.