Fred McNeill, then a rookie linbacker with the Minnesota Vikings, pauses between plays on April 27, 1974. (Mike Zerby / Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Julian Bailes, M.D., a local researcher and physician at Evanston’s NorthShore University HealthSystem, believes he has, alongside a team of researchers including Bennet Omalu, M.D. (portrayed by Will Smith in the 2015 biopic, Concussion), identified signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in medical imaging scans of living patients.  The recent findings center around a study of former NFL players that was conducted by the research team in 2013. 

They took brain scans of living former players to identify markers of CTE.  One of the test subjects, Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill, passed away in 2015.  His brain tissue was examined and the team believes they identified physical characteristics that matched indications from his 2013 brain scan.  Specifically, his brain scan showed the presence of a protein called tau, which the researchers believe is a sign that CTE is developing in the brain.

To date, the only reliable way to diagnose CTE is still physically examining the brain tissue after the patient’s death. Some CTE symptoms can be treated individually, but treatment for the disease itself is non-existent because it cannot be identified while a person is alive.  If researchers can identify the disease in a living patient and track its progression, they believe they may be able to slow it down or possibly even reverse the process. If subsequent research can confirm that tau buildup in the brain corresponds with CTE damage, this will mark a tremendous step forward for the care and treatment of brain-injured patients.

For more information on their exciting research, we urge you to see the November 15, 2017 Chicago Tribune article.  Dr. Bailes’ and Dr. Omalu’s research paper is also available free of charge on the Neurosurgery journal’s website.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), TBI plays a role in almost a third of all injury deaths in the United States, and is a common cause of both death and disability in the country. For more information on TBI and David A. Axelrod & Associates’ practice in that area, please visit:

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