New study: CTE risk increases each year playing football

Updated: October 11, 2019 10:21 PM

Boston University’s CTE Center researchers published a new study this week that found for every year of repeated head collisions and impact from playing tackle football the risk of developing the neurodegenerative disease increases by 30%.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is only detected postmortem, and it’s unclear why some people get it and others do not.

The findings published in the Annals of Neurology studied the brains of 266 deceased former players from youth, high school, college, and professional teams including players with and without CTE.

"In this study we looked at duration of play," said Dr. Jesse Mez, BU researcher. "It really had this strong effect."

BU researchers also found for every 2.6 years of play, the risk of developing CTE doubles.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS visited the lab where the research is conducted in Boston, Massachusetts.

Family of Late Minnesota Hockey Star Waiting for Results from CTE Lab

There are 12 freezers inside a hospital laboratory, each containing at least 150 brains.

In the lab, tissue samples are covered with a chemical stain used to identify any abnormalities, known as Tau, a dark-buildup of protein that causes dementia, memory loss, and mood swings, experts say.

BU experts hope these findings move them closer to diagnosing the disease and helping doctors and parents learn more about head hits and collisions in football.

"They can make informed decisions about length of play, and beginning of play, whether to play,” said Dr. Mez. “I don't want it to be my role to say they shouldn't be playing but I want them to know about the risks of playing."

Minnesota Connection

Greg Lens, a native of Marshall, MN played for the Atlanta Falcons in the 1970s.

"They were playing the Vikings, freezing cold, my mother was there, we were all bundled up because Greg was playing," recalled Becky Lens, Greg’s sister.

After leaving the game, his sister said Greg's personality changed, later learning it was early dementia.

"It's sad to see your loved one go through that," Lens said.

After his death in November 2009, Greg was diagnosed with CTE by the researchers at Boston University.

Lens hope this research can be used to make safety improvements to the game of footbal at all levels of play.

"That is the one good thing from this that it might help somebody else-- that is one thing that gives you comfort, Lens said.

The study came out in the same week, the Concussion Legacy Foundation based in Boston, started a new campaign, Tackle Can Wait, to urge parents to delay starting tackle football until a child is 14-years-old.

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Eric Chaloux

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