In Largest Brain Study of Young Athletes, a 'Remarkable' Find

Researchers find 41% of late players under 30 showed signs of CTE
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 29, 2023 11:50 AM CDT
Updated Sep 3, 2023 4:15 PM CDT
In Largest Brain Study of Young Athletes, a 'Remarkable' Find
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Moussa81)

Diagnoses of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) have been found in pro football players, pro soccer players, and pro hockey players. Now, a new study out of Boston University's CTE Center focuses on a new demographic affected by CTE: mainly amateurs playing on the youth, high school, and college circuits. In their research published Monday in the JAMA Neurology journal, which USA Today notes is the largest study to date on the neurodegenerative condition in young people, scientists looked at 152 brains of athletes under 30 donated to the UNITE Brain Bank between 2008 and 2022. They found that 63 of those brains, or 41%, showed some evidence of CTE that had been confirmed by an autopsy.

The ages of the brain donors at the time of their deaths ranged from 13 to 29, with the youngest CTE patient being a 17-year-old who played high school football. The majority of the donors had played football (60%), while others were soccer players (15%) and ice hockey players (10%), as well as athletes in rugby and wrestling. Eleven of the 152 donors were female, with one, a 28-year-old college soccer player, receiving a CTE diagnosis. The leading cause of death among the donors—87 cases in all—was suicide, though lead author Dr. Ann McKee notes that suicide is one of the top causes of death among young people overall and can't definitively be linked to CTE among these patients, per CNN.

Still, McKee calls the study's findings "remarkable," noting that less than 1% of the general population has CTE. "This study clearly shows that the pathology of CTE starts early," she says. So what does this mean for moms and dads concerned about their kids playing contact sports? "I think for the parent that is wondering, 'Should my child play youth or high school football,' we have no evidence that there's going to be a long-term problem," says Dr. Steven Broglio, head of the University of Michigan Concussion Center, pointing out the benefits of team sports. Still, he adds that parents should proceed with caution, noting, "It's kind of like smoking: The more you do it, the more your risk grows." Much more here. (More discoveries stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.