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Study underway to help diagnose CTE earlier

PHOENIX (KSAZ) -- Football season is here. and top of mind is the safety of the players.

In recent years, there's been a big focus on preventing concussions and studying CTE, a brain disease associated with head trauma that affects athletes and veterans with a history of concussions.

CTE leads to memory loss and confusion among other symptoms, and currently, the disease can't be diagnosed until the patient dies. However, researchers and doctors at TGen in Phoenix are hoping to detect CTE, before the symptoms start showing.

Dr. Jeffrey Trent with TGen says this study could be the holy grail, if it is successful.

"Clearly, the holy grail would be the non-invasive rapid test that could give us correct, clear information about what's going on in the brain by simply sampling the blood," said Dr. Trent.

In CTE, a certain protein starts to clump and slowly killing off brain cells, but it usually happens many years later, after numerous head injuries and concussions. This study focuses on tackling CTE beforehand, mainly through blood samples.

"If you played football long enough, or any contact sport for that matter, soccer is another one with some of the headers, it's a matter of when, not if," said former Arizona Cardinals player Alex Dunn, who is Dr. Trent's son-in-law.

A study out of Boston shows 99% of deceased NFL players had CTE, and 91% of college football players. Dunn is hoping to help researchers diagnose CTE earlier, and he is participating in the study by donating a sample of his blood, saliva and urine.

"Completely easy, yeah. Took about 20 minutes. Really fast. The staff was fantastic, so highly recommend for anyone that's an athlete," said Dunn.

"I played football at Arcadia High School, hardly the NFL and having a son-in-law in the NFL and grandkids that have an opportunity to play. Definitely want to do what we can to try and help the next generation," said Dr. Trent.

The game plan is to eventually find a way to diagnose CTE through a blood-based test in the next two to three years. The next step after that is to find more preventative treatment options.

TGen will be collecting more samples on September 7. They are looking for both former athletes with a history of concussions, and non-athletes as well who are at least 20 years old.

Information on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)
Mayo Clinic:
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy/symptoms-causes/syc-20370921
Concussion Legacy Foundation: https://concussionfoundation.org/CTE-resources/what-is-CTE

CTE Research by TGen
https://www.tgen.org/patients/participate-in-our-research/chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy-cte/