A new study has found similarities between the brain injuries of athletes and those of military veterans.
The report, published May 16 by Boston University’s School of Medicine, shows that chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE, the brain disease found to progress in athletes with multiple head traumas, develops similarly in soldiers who have been exposed to a blast from an improvised explosive device.
“Now that we have identified the mechanism responsible for CTE, we can work on developing ways to prevent it so that we can protect athletes and our military service personnel,” Dr. Lee Goldstein, a lead author of the study, said in a statement released by the university.
The study looked at the brains of three young football players and one wrestler, and compared them to four soldiers who engaged in military action in Afghanistan.
All of the men were in their late 20s to early 30s, according to CBS News. Those affected by CTE had a buildup of a protein called tau in different parts of the brain. Lesions eventually formed on the brain, leading to behaviors that mimic Alzheimer’s Disease, affect mood, and can cause severe depression.
The study shows that a single blast was enough to set the brain disease in motion for soldiers.
“It turns out there is a blast wind, which violently and very rapidly moves the head back and forth,” said Patric K. Stanton, who helped complete the initial phases of the study in the laboratory on mice. “If you immobilize the head, which you can do in laboratory setting, you can prevent the effects of the blast on learning and memory.”
While scientists are working hard to figure a way to prevent CTE and its symptoms, the public is reminded that the studies in humans can only be completed post-mortem on bodies that have been donated to science.
“It’s got to be the hardest thing in the world, when you’ve lost a loved one like this—to then go and donate their brains for a study,” said Stanton. “It’s something really incredible, and really important so that we can learn and study in the future.”