Students who are taking part in a clinical trial for chronic brain injury (CTE) will be tested to determine whether the disease is caused by repetitive head trauma or a combination of both, according to a study.
The research is part of the ongoing National Institutes of Health-funded study by the Mayo Clinic.
The Mayo Clinic study has not yet identified a cause of the disease, which can result in paralysis and other disabilities.
Researchers are also exploring possible treatments, including the use of new drugs.
The Mayo study, published Monday in the journal Neurology, was the first to look at the risk of CTE, a condition that occurs when the brain is damaged by repeated blows or blows that are not delivered on a consistent basis.
The disease is usually diagnosed during the late stages of the acute period, when the body is fatigued from exercise or from stress.
In a new paper in Neurology titled “Is CTE an Outlier?” published by the American Journal of Neurology’s editorial board, researchers said they had not yet pinpointed the cause of CTEs.
The study, which included 11,000 participants, showed that there was a slightly increased risk of developing CTEs for individuals who had suffered repeated blows to the head.
While the risk increased among those who had been hit several times, there was no significant difference in the risk among those whose first hit had occurred more than three times.
CTE has been linked to severe brain injuries that can lead to paralysis, cognitive impairments and death.
But the Mayo researchers cautioned that their study did not determine whether or not repeated blows were the only cause of CTE.
“It’s a risk that’s still developing and we have to be cautious about attributing a causal relationship to CTE,” said Dr. David J. Davenport, the lead author of the Mayo study.
Other research is still being done in an attempt to identify the exact cause of chronic brain injuries.
There are some signs that people are experiencing more severe and more lasting symptoms of the disorder, but we don’t know what those symptoms are or how many people are suffering from them, said Dr-Yuan Liu, the chief of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) Division of Neurologic Disease and Rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic and a lead author on the Mayo paper.
Although the Mayo team is working to identify possible treatments for CTE, it’s unclear if those therapies would be able to slow the progression of the condition.
Researchers have previously tried using new drugs, such as a compound developed by Dr. Martin Seligman, to slow or stop the progression.
For now, Dr. Daver said, the best way to protect the brain from CTE is to continue to do the things that are beneficial to you, like exercising and getting adequate sleep.
Even after you stop being able to do some of the things you enjoy, it will be hard to get back to a healthy lifestyle, he said.
Follow Laura Geggel on Twitter at www.twitter.com/laurageggelAP.