A recent study conducted by the Boston University CTE Center has found that chronic traumatic encephalopathy may develop as early as one day after a mild head injury, regardless of whether or not the individual suffered a concussion.
CTE is a neurodegenerative brain disease initiated by repeated head traumas, which cause a buildup of tau protein in blood vessels. This buildup can cause several negative effects on mood and behavior, according to the director of the Center for Clinical Biopsychology, Alice Cronin-Golomb.
“This study alone is showing significant brain changes soon after head injury,” Cronin-Golomb said. “Many other studies have shown the terrible changes in brain and behavior associated with CTE: dementia, suicide [and] awful personality changes.”
The researchers found signs of CTE development in four deceased teenage athletes who experienced mild head injuries within between one day and four months of their deaths, according to Cronin-Golomb.
Lee Goldstein, a co-author of the study and a BU School of Medicine professor of neurology, said the study shifts attention from the danger of concussions to the danger of all head injuries.
“Whether they are concussive or not, [head injuries] are potentially very dangerous,” Goldstein said. “We [now] know [CTE] can occur in people who have never had a concussion in their life.”
The researchers tested their hypothesis by subjecting mice to repeated head impacts similar to what an athlete may experience, as well as blast trauma similar to what members of the military may experience.
The mice brains showed leaky blood vessels and inflammation, similar to that which was found in the brains of the four teenagers, Cronin-Golomb said.
The researchers found that two of the teenage brains contained distinct signs of CTE, including tau protein buildup, and one had progressed into fully developed CTE.
Goldstein said the discovery of a neurodegenerative disease such as CTE being found in a teenager is “incredibly concerning.”
Thanks to the study, Goldstein added, the Concussion Legacy Foundation is creating a program to promote flag football rather than contact football for children under the age of 14.
Benjamin Wolozin, a professor of neurology at BU, said the recent study may not provoke an immediate change in football participation and popularity trends, but could possibly do so over the next several years.
“Football is entrenched in our society, and a lot of people love football,” Wolozin said. “This year is anything going to happen? Probably not. Over the course of 10 years or 15 years will we see people being more careful about football? I think so.”
Goldstein said the study, which was published last week in the peer-reviewed journal, Brain, “provides the first solid scientific evidence that all hits are capable of triggering CTE.”
Several students shared mixed opinions about how athletes should proceed with playing sports after these new findings were published.
Margaret Burns, a College of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in neuroscience, said she doesn’t understand why football players would continue to put themselves at risk, especially with the attention CTE has gotten in the last few years.
“I don’t understand why people who know the risks would subject themselves to that,” Burns said. “Why would you want to play football if you know this is what’s happening, and you see all your peers going through this awful experience and have crazy health issues?”
Kimberly Boscodoss, a first-year graduate student in the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, said she thinks athletes should be able to play physical sports as long as they wear the proper gear and have awareness of the potential risks involved.
“I think if they have the right protection to play the sport then they aren’t as prone to all the injuries,” Boscodoss said. “They should also be aware of CTE if they are going to play.”
Daniella Lazarus, a Sargent sophomore, said she thinks people should continue playing the sports they love, but should take additional measures to ensure their safety.
“I don’t think this study should make the public reluctant to playing sports or engage in activities that they enjoy,” Lazarus wrote in a Facebook message. “But it should persuade them to take necessary precautions.”