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Study finds 'conclusive evidence' repetitive head impacts cause CTE

The degenerative brain disease CTE has been found in more than 300 former NFL players as well as semi-pro and high school soccer players.

WASHINGTON — Researchers have found "conclusive evidence" that repetitive head impacts cause the degenerative brain disease CTE, according to a new study

Researchers from Harvard, UCLA, Michigan and five other universities, along with the non-profit Concussion Legacy Foundation, took part in the study. They found that athletes involved in contact sports were at least 68 times more likely to develop chronic traumatic encephalopathy than those who didn't play contact sports.

As a result of their findings, the study authors are calling on government officials, sports leagues and parents to implement CTE prevention and mitigation efforts. 

“Sport governing bodies should acknowledge that head impacts cause CTE and they should not mislead the public on CTE causation while athletes die, and families are destroyed, by this terrible disease,” Concussion Legacy Foundation CEO and study lead author Dr. Chris Nowinski said.

The study authors were particularly concerned that children were being exposed to preventable cases of CTE because their parents and coaches weren't getting facts from global sports groups, according to a Concussion Legacy Foundation press release

“This analysis shows it is time to include repetitive head impacts and CTE among child protection efforts like exposure to lead, mercury, smoking, and sunburns,” Dr. Adam Finkel, co-author of the study and a clinical professor at the University of Michigan, said. 

There are currently no tests to determine if a living person has CTE. The only way it can be diagnosed is through a posthumous brain tissue analysis. CTE has been found in more than 300 former NFL players as well as semi-pro and high school soccer players.

Earlier this month, it was announced that NFL Pro Bowl wide receiver Demaryius Thomas had Stage 2 CTE. The 33-year-old died Dec. 9 of last year after he was found unconscious in the bathroom of his Georgia home.

In late June, the Boston University CTE Center said it diagnosed CTE in a Major League Soccer player for the first time. Researchers said defender Scott Vermillion, who died of an accidental drug overdose in Dec. 2020, had the disease. 

Earlier this week, more than 100 former rugby players announced they were taking legal action against World Rugby and the national governing bodies of England and Wales over what they say was a failure to protect them from permanent injury caused by repeated concussions during their careers.

The Associated Press and KUSA contributed to this report. 

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