Former NFL players to participate in brain-disease research

The researchers studying a degenerative brain disease in former athletes plan to test about 100 retired NFL players to try to learn how to diagnose the condition during life.

For now, the only way to confirm Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy is by examining brains after death. The Boston University center that has analyzed the brains of more than 70 former athletes is starting a three-year study of living patients.

The Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy at BU's School of Medicine also will recruit 50 retired elite athletes from non-contact sports as a comparison group, co-director Robert Stern told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Co-director Dr. Ann McKee has found CTE in more than 50 former athletes; in the past year alone, the list has included sports stars Dave Duerson of the NFL and Rick Martin of the NHL. Linked to repeated brain trauma, CTE is associated with symptoms such as memory loss, impaired judgment, depression, and, eventually, progressive dementia.

The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

The NFL players must be offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers or defensive backs, because those positions involve the most repeated brain trauma. The subjects are between the ages of 40 and 69 and suffer from some symptoms associated with CTE. They all had long football careers to ensure an extensive history of blows to the head.

The NFL and the players' union are helping the center to contact former players. Stern said the initial response had been "extremely positive."

The athletes are promised confidentiality.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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