May 01, 2018 06:29 PM
A former Minnesota Gopher and NFL football player is recruiting other former players to participate in new medical research that aims to diagnose a degenerative brain disease known as CTE while people are still alive.
Ben Utecht, who played tight end for the Gophers from 2000-2003 before being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts, hopes the expanded research will provide players with answers that right now can only be found after death.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, CTE, has been diagnosed in the brains of former professional athletes, including football players like the late Junior Seau and Aaron Hernandez.
Utecht is trying to convince former players to participate in a federally funded project called "Diagnosis CTE."
"The players I talk to who are generally struggling right now are just trying to make it through a day," Utecht said.
Mayo Clinic is one of several research centers participating in the study that requires subjects to undergo MRI scans, blood draws, and spinal taps among other tests over a three-year period.
Researchers are looking for a build-up of a protein called Tau that they say leads to a lack of impulse control, early onset dementia and memory loss.
Boston University recently gave 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS rare access to its CTE laboratory where researchers have identified the protein in the brains of former athletes, combat veterans and young kids who suffered repeated head trauma.
Their findings led to a billion-dollar concussion settlement between the NFL and former players that was finalized last year.
Utecht's personal health struggles have been well documented since he retired from the NFL in 2009 after suffering a fifth concussion.
"I experienced some significant gaps in my long term memory --- those issues definitely weighed heavily on my shoulders," Utecht said.
He says his memory has improved in recent years thanks to cognitive therapy but he feared early in retirement that he had suffered permanent brain damage.
"What if the worst case situations happen to me," Utecht remembers wondering.
He hopes other players will not have to live with the same fear, and will instead be given concrete explanations for their health struggles thanks to the expanded CTE research.
"Over time, we can pull out medical evidence that can make the game safer; more importantly provide answers at every level."
Updated: May 01, 2018 06:29 PM
Created: May 01, 2018 01:08 PM
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