The Alzheimer's-like disease has predominantly been associated with former professional football players and military veterans, who are prone to head injuries, and it has widely been accepted that. They administered a few mild blows to the heads of the lab mice: the force was equivalent to the impact of a right hook to a human, or a helmet-to-helmet football collision, but the blows did not always cause concussions in the mice, says Goldstein.
One teen's brain showed early-stage CTE and two others had buildup of tau protein, an indicator of CTE found in athletes and soldiers who have suffered brain trauma. CTE is a brain disease characterized by accumulation of tau protein around the brain's blood vessels.
"The NFL is setting a bad example by focusing on the concussion and while not focusing on the hits", said Goldstein.
CTE is a serious, degenerative brain condition that causes cognitive, mood and behavior impairments. In addition, scientists are also trying to unravel the role other factors play in the disease - factors such as genetics, how early someone is exposed to head trauma, and how long they've been exposed to trauma. Currently, the only way to diagnose CTE is with an autopsy after death.
Goldstein says the goal moving forward is to develop new diagnostics, therapeutics, protective equipment and preventive measures to hell those affected by head injuries.
Individuals suffering from CTE will suffer gradually deterioration of their brains and will end up losing brain mass over the years or decades.
"We know now there is no question that some of these kids, some of these adults, who are playing through hits are actually in really bad shape", Lee E. Goldstein, professor at BU's School of Medicine and College of Engineering, and co-author of the study, told USA TODAY. A recent evaluation from Boston University's CTE Center, of which Goldstein is a part of, found that 110 of 111 former National Football League players had been diagnosed with the disease.
"The real exposure to larger players, higher velocity hits and hundreds of hits starts in high school", he said.
Goldstein said concussions remain the red herring of CTE. "And all of our evidence to date shows it's progressive".
Carson, the former linebacker, noted that "the game is more popular now". The athletic director at Walpole High School says he already plans to talk to coaches about the findings from BU, to find ways players can avoid those unsafe hits.
When a football player stumbles off the field, woozy, there's a good chance the player suffered a concussion.
But concussive episodes alone may not be responsible for the potential long-term damage to a football player's brain.