Degenerative Brain Disease Found In 87% of Former Football Players: Study

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This article originally appeared on Time.com.

The link between football and traumatic brain injury continues to strengthen. Now, one of the largest studies on the subject to date finds that 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder associated with repetitive head trauma.

Several studies have linked CTE to suicidal behavior, dementia and declines in memory, executive function and mood. Professional athletes may be at higher risk for CTE because of their high likelihood for concussions and other traumatic brain injuries; up to 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the United States each year. In 2016, a health official with the NFL acknowledged the link between football and CTE for the first time.

In the new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers looked at the brains of 202 deceased people who had played football at various levels, from high school to the NFL. (The brains had been donated to a brain bank at Boston University for further study.) The researchers analyzed the brains for signs of CTE and also spoke to family members about the players’ histories.

They diagnosed CTE in 87% of the players. Among the 111 NFL players, 99% had CTE.

MORE: 40% of Former NFL Players Had Brain Injuries

“This study more than doubles the number of cases reported in the literature of CTE,” says study author Dr. Jesse Mez, an assistant professor of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine. “It suggests, with a lot of caveats, that this is probably not a rare disease—at least among those who are exposed to a lot of football.”

The severity of CTE symptoms appeared to progress the more a person played the sport. High school players included in the study tended to have mild disease, and most college, semi-professional and professional players had severe symptoms. The study authors also found that mood, behavior and cognition problems were common among the players with mild to severe CTE.

Among players with severe CTE, 85% had signs of dementia, and 89% had behavioral or mood symptoms, or both. They were also likely to have issues in brain regions associated with depressive symptoms, impulsivity and anxiety. 95% had cognitive symptoms, like issues with memory, executive function and attention.

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The study has key limitations. Researchers studied a limited and possibly skewed sample of brains; news about repetitive head trauma and CTE has become increasingly prevalent, and families of players with symptoms of brain injury may have felt more motivated to participate in the brain bank study. It’s also still difficult to say how common CTE is among all football players.

“The numbers are not meant to represent the prevalence of CTE in football players,” says Mez. “But it does begin to suggest a relationship between football and this disease, and that’s an important step for research that will look at this in the future.”

Mez says the brain bank, which is ongoing, receives between 50 to 100 donations every year. Having access to brain tissue allows the researchers to study possible mechanisms for CTE, and why some players develop it while others do not. “We are really early in understanding this disease,” says Mez.

Source: Mind and Body

FDA Panel Recommends Approval of the First Gene Therapy Treatment

This article originally appeared on Time.com.

An advisory panel for the FDA recommended approving the first gene therapy for use in the U.S., and the treatment is meant for children with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common blood cancer in children. The FDA doesn’t have to follow the advice of the advisory committee, but it often does.

The new therapy, called chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy, provides new hope that the disease won’t just be treated, but cured. It’s based on using the immune system to fight against cancer—currently the most promising way to fight tumors. Cancer cells arise from normal cells, so the immune system doesn’t always recognize that anything is wrong. A pioneering group of drugs already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), called checkpoint inhibitors, remove the brakes on the immune system and allow it to attack tumor cells that it normally wouldn’t.

The newly approved therapy CAR-T therapy works to co-opt the immune system in a different way. It involves removing a patient’s blood and essentially replacing it with a population of blood cells stacked with cancer-fighting immune cells known as T cells. To do that, researchers use gene therapy to change patients’ bone marrow cells, which make blood and immune cells, to recognize cancer cells.

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Novartis applied for the approval for its drug, tisagenlecleucel, to treat acute lymphblastic leukemia in children who have exhausted all the existing treatments for the disease. Doctors say the drug, which helps to genetically engineer the cells, only needs to be infused once to repopulate children’s blood with healthy, cancer-fighting cells. In a small group of patients who have received the therapy, 83% were in complete or partial remission three months later.

MORE: Immunotherapy May Treat This Deadly Breast Cancer

“Novartis has long believed in the potential of chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapies to change the cancer treatment paradigm,” the company said in a statement responding to the decision.

Other companies are also pursuing CAR-T cell strategies but have struggled with major complications. Some patients receiving CAR-T therapy can develop a severe inflammatory reaction known as cytokine release syndrome, in which the immune system is overactive and can cause high fever, neurological symptoms and organ damage. Earlier this year, Kite Pharma, which also has a CAR-T therapy product being reviewed by the FDA, reported the death of a patient from brain swelling, and Juno Therapeutics placed its CAR T program on hold when its scientists weren’t able to overcome the toxicity.

Researchers at the hearing told the advisory panel that careful monitoring for the first signs of the inflammation can keep it under control. The advisory panel determined, unanimously, 10-0, that the benefit of the therapy outweighed the risks.

Source: Mind and Body

Colorado Teen Wakes Up to 'Crunching Sound' as Bear Bites Into His Skull: 'I Was Afraid for My Life'

This article originally appeared on People.com.

WARNING: This story includes graphic photos

Dylan McWilliams, a 19-year-old wilderness survival teacher at Glacier View Ranch in Ward, Colorado, says he was fast asleep on July 9 when he heard a “crunching sound” as a black bear bit into the back of his head while he camped under a full moon with staffers.

McWilliams says he punched the bear in the eyes and nose as it dragged him 12 feet in about 15 seconds before finally letting go.

“I just woke up to a loud crunching sound and I remember a lot of pain, and just being drug across the ground by my head by a bear,” McWilliams tells PEOPLE. “I kind of thought it was a dream for a second, I didn’t know what was going on.”

“I was very afraid for my life,” he continues. “After it dropped me and I got back to where everybody was, I just laid down, and the blood was all over my eyes and I couldn’t see. I thought I was blind.”

Though McWilliams has only taught wilderness survival classes for two months at the camp, thanks to his family of outdoor enthusiasts, he knew that fighting back against the bear was his best chance at survival. Their advice may have saved his life.

McWilliams was taken to a nearby hospital after staffers called 911, where he was given nine staples to his scalp before being released. During the time of the attack, 12- and 13-year-old campers were sleeping in cabins 100 feet away. No one else was injured in the attack.

Experts say unprovoked behavior such as this is not typical of black bears, and on Monday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife announced that they trapped and euthanized a 280-pound black bear believed to have been the one that attacked McWilliams, according to CBS Denver.

After the bear was captured, McWilliams was there to see it. “I looked into its eyes—for me, I’ve always loved the outdoors, and animals—and I kind of felt bad for it,” he says. “But then, I was like, this thing tried to kill me. It tried to eat me. Then I didn’t really feel bad for it.”

Though he is still experiencing pain and headaches, McWilliams is back at work at the camp, and his passion for the outdoors continues.

When asked if he’s nervous about camping again, he said, “No, I’ll probably go tomorrow night.” 

Source: Mind and Body