According to a new case study conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and at Molecular Neuroimaging (MNI) LLC in New Haven, an experimental positron emission tomography (PET) tracer is effective in diagnosing concussion-related brain disease while a person is still living. The Mount Sinai case study included the evaluations of two living patients, one who was a retired NFL football player with a history of multiple concussions and a patient with a single traumatic brain injury (TBI).

According to a news report from Science Daily, the study results suggest that an experimental radiolabeled compounded called [18 F]-T807 can be registered on a PET scanner to successfully diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Both patients in the study presented with cognitive decline and suspected Alzheimer’s disease (AD), and both were evaluated by a combination of molecular imaging techniques to pinpoint specific brain damage and disease. The study was led by Samuel Gandy, MD.

Specifically, the patients underwent neuopsychological assessments by a team of TBI and AD experts, and following the evaluation, the experts disagreed as to whether AD was present in this retired NFL player, according to the Science Daily news report. The patients underwent PET imaging with florbetapir, an FDA-approved chemical that detects the brain amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s’ disease during life.

For the retired NFL player, the PET scan with negative for cerebral amyloidosis, which excluded AD, and he also underwent [18F]-T807 PET imaging that revealed signs of aggregated tau in some temporal areas of his brain, as indicated on the Science Daily news report.

The Science Daily news report notes that the current study is the first where one technology was able to show both the abnormal accumulation of tau protein in a person that experienced several concussions in the distant past, while at the same time demonstrating that the patient did not have the protein signature seen with Alzheimer’s disease.

Gandy states, “Our data suggest that PET imaging using the [18F]-T807 tau tracer is an effective method of diagnosing or ruling out chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a living brain. We can now begin to test this while the players are still alive. Moreover, we are now equipped to tell prospective athletes of all ages some real data on the risks that accompany sports involving repeated traumatic brain injuries.”

Sources: Science Daily, The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine