First CTE diagnosis on living NFL player confirmed by autopsy, report shows

Doctors were successfully able to diagnose a living person with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a first for the field of medical research, according to a recently published article.

The findings, released in the medical journal Neurosurgery on Nov. 10, said an autopsy on the brain of a retired NFL player confirmed the results of scans taken more than four years before the subject died. CTE is "a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma," according to the Research CTE Center at Boston University.

It's been found to especially affect athletes and members of the military.

The family of former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill confirmed to the Chicago Tribune that McNeill was the subject of the study. McNeill was 63 years old when he died in 2015 and had experienced significant loss of motor skills and changes to his personality since his retirement from the NFL, the research paper said.

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The scans showed the existence of tau, a protein which builds off damaged brain cells and is present in CTE, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“Mood, behaviors, motor, and cognitive changes were consistent with chronic traumatic myeloencephalopathy with a 22-yr lifetime risk exposure to American football,” the report said.

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While more evidence is needed to further confirm the findings, doctors and researchers are hopeful that the information could prove to be helpful to earlier recognition of the symptoms of CTE, the Chicago Tribune said.

“If you can trust the scans, you can tell a football player he shouldn’t keep playing, or tell someone in the military he can’t (be exposed to) explosions,” Dr. Julian Bailes, who is involved with the study, told the outlet.

Other doctors are still skeptical, however, arguing that the findings aren’t necessarily conclusive to diagnosing CTE and the evidence could actually show the presence of other diseases, like Alzheimer’s, the Tribune reported.