One of the five players, who is in his 60s, just has signs of normal aging, Small said.
All the study participants received an intravenous injection of a radioactive chemical called FDDNP, which binds to tau protein in the brain. UCLA holds a patent on FDDNP.
"It's a very small chemical that has a radioactive label attached to it and the PET scanner acts as Geiger counter and measures its radioactivity," Small explained.
Dr. Howard Derman, medical director of the Methodist Concussion Center in Houston, which collaborates with the Nantz National Alzheimer Center on research into possible links between concussion, head injuries and dementia, discussed the implications of the new research.
At present, he said, "In terms of what we can do for patients, it's not much. We can use more sophisticated imaging. We use PET scanning all the time, but PET scanning with an isotope that binds to brain plaque and tangles -- it's the isotope that adds a new dimension."
Derman, who was not involved with the UCLA study, said that if proven to work by further research, the new method "might be useful to give athletes guidance. If you took an athlete and followed him sequentially after each concussion and then [the brain area] lights up, you might want to say it's time" to think about retiring.
"I'm more than cautiously optimistic -- but it's [only] five players," Derman said.
Study author Small said that "there's a lot of overlap between Alzheimer's disease, brain aging and traumatic brain injury. W
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