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Landmark Changes Made in CTE Research

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has acknowledged the link between blows to the head and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, better known as CTE, in a landmark move in relation to the research of the neurodegenerative disease, the Guardian reports.

The NIH -- which is the largest biomedical research agency in the world -- rewrote its official guidance on CTE after a group of 41 leading scientists, doctors and epidemiologists co-signed a letter addressed to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which cited a recent study published in the Frontiers in Neurology journal in July that noted the causal link between brain injuries experienced by abuse victims, soldiers and athletes.

CTE was initially recognized by experts in the 1950s and the link between the neurodegenerative disease and head injuries became "pretty clear" in 2014, though the official guidance had not been reflected until Monday's (October 24) announcement.

“Now that causation has been established, the world has a tremendous opportunity to prevent future cases of CTE,” said a spokesperson for the not-for-profit group the Concussion Legacy Foundation via the Guardian. “The only known cause of CTE is environmental exposure, and in most cases a choice – the choice to play contact sports.

“Our goal is to reform all youth sports so they no longer include preventable repetitive head impacts before age 14 – no heading in soccer, no tackling in [American] football and rugby. 

“This change, combined with logical limits to repeated head impacts in sports for people over 14 (such as no hitting in football/rugby practice and strict limits on headers in practice) would be expected to prevent the vast majority of future CTE cases.”

The NIH's decision now puts it alongside the U.S. Centers for Disease Control as two of the leading independent global medical research bodies acknowledging the link between severe head injuries and CTE.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had publicly stated, “Most research suggests that CTE is caused in part by exposure to repeated traumatic brain injuries," in 2019.

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