Does playing football cause permanent brain damage? If it wasn’t already, that question is now squarely in the zeitgeist thanks to Hollywood and Will Smith.
The answer is not so straightforward, however. We are likely to learn a lot more about the subject in 2016 because so many labs are focused on concussion research right now. But scientists are only beginning to understand the details of how concussions—also a serious problem in the military—damage the brain. A better grasp of those details will help doctors get better at treating such injuries.
St. Louis Rams quarterback Case Keenum after taking a hard hit to the head during a game in November.
The past year featured dramatic announcements from scientists studying the relationship between concussions and brain damage. In September, researchers from the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University announced that they’d found evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE—a recently discovered neurodegenerative disease that impairs cognition—in the brain tissue of 87 out of 91 former NFL players they studied. In December, researchers conducting an extensive brain imaging study at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center revealed that they’d observed “brain scars” in advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams of more…