Genes connect football, the military and Alzheimer's Disease together

Jenny Decker RN's picture
Military and Alzheimer's Disease
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Genes are now highlighted as the connection between football, the military, and Alzheimer’s Disease.

In a new research study published in Science Translational Medicine, it has been found that the relationship between various causes of traumatic brain injuries and Alzheimer’s Disease is genetic. Traumatic brain injuries can be as simple as a slight blow to the head, especially if they occur more than once. In fact, each time a blow to head occurs, the person becomes more susceptible to the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s Disease. This is often found in American football and other high impact sports. Recently the tangles often associated with Alzheimer’s disease were found in the military with personnel who have been exposed to even just one blast from an IED.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is caused by a variety of things, however about 50 percent of Alzheimer's Disease is found to be genetic. The gene responsible for AD has also been found in persons who were football players, boxers, as well as other sports. The gene has also been found in military personnel, most recently those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was found that these persons who had traumatic brain injuries and this specific gene were at a ten-fold risk of developing what is known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. Then the question arises whether screening should be done before allowing a person to do high impact sports, or even join the military.

According to the researchers, other experts in the field have said no, this shouldn’t be done, at least not at this point. And they gave reasons why. There are many reasons which include ethical and psychological issues as well as other issues. The first reason is there is just not enough research that has been done to support and action such as this. Research to identify a definite cause of CTE related to the gene would cost millions because it would be a large, longitudinal study consisting of many years of research. There is only a correlation between the gene and the tangles and associated CTE or AD. Ethical and psychological issues severely complicate the matter as well. The emotional toll of the effects of genotypes on the person and the family, the ability for the person with the gene to gain employment, as well as obtaining health insurance are all matters that must be considered.

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Some research and initiatives are beginning however. The proposed National Child Health and Development Vanguard Study seeks to be able to document major life events with environmental exposures of an estimated 100,00 children up until their 21st birthday. This will allow for chronicling of head and sports injuries and providing valuable prospective and longitudinal information for other research. At issue also with the National Football League Hall of Fame is to evaluate and follow up on members with these types of injuries.

The military has also begun following those with TBI’s. TBI related questions are already being integrated into the US Department of Defense Alzheimer’s Disease Neuorimaging Initiative. Under this initiative those military personnel and veterans that are at high risk for exposure to IEDs will provide their DNA for genetic research. They will also undergo many assessments of cognitive status, brain structure and panel imaging, as well as body fluid biomarkers.

In depth research that will take many years is considered to be very worthwhile. The number of football players and any other athletes that may be at risk for development of CTE’s range from 22,000 to 220,000. The RAND corporation estimated the total number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been diagnosed with TBI’s have reached to 285,000. With the high numbers at risk, further research to possibly be able to bring some of this down is crucial. But it will also help bring down some of the costs of treating one patient with Alzheimer's Disease and other associated disorders such as CTE.

Source:
Sci Transl Med 16 May 2012 4:134ed4
"APOE ε4 Status and Traumatic Brain Injury on the Gridiron or the Battlefield"
Sam Gandy and Steven T. DeKosky

Picture obtained from Morguefile

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