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article imageVaccine could protect football players from concussion

By Tim Sandle     Feb 5, 2018 in Health
To coincide with the Superbowl, a science-meets-sport news story has been announced. United Neuroscience, a spinout of vaccine-maker United Bioscience, has reported that it is developing a drug designed to inoculate the brain against CTE.
Contact sports carry risks and with football there is growing evidence concerning the connection between repeated blows to the head and the neurodegeneration of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In 2016, Digital Journal’s Essential Science column looked at a study produced from Virginia Tech into head impacts sustained by young football players aged seven and eight years olds.
A different study from Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., found the extent of brain injury is proportional to the number of successive head contacts over time. The researchers found that mild head injuries can cause chronic behavioral, cognitive, and neurodegenerative conditions.
Based on the potential seriousness of head injuries, United Neuroscience has begun developing a drug designed to inoculate the brain against CTE, Wired has reported. This is similar to a virus based on a weakened version of a virus, but instead a protein is used. The protein is analogous to tau, which the human body can manufacture.
Because the body would reject tau, the scientists have developed a synthetic variant. The protein looks very similar to tau in its appearance. Tau are proteins that stabilize microtubules. They are abundant in neurons of the central nervous system. However, with head injury researchers are of the opinion that brain trauma triggers the buildup of a neurotoxic variant of the protein tau.
CTE is a neurodegenerative disease found in people who have had multiple head injuries. The symptoms, such as behavioral and mood problems, do not appear until several years after the injuries. The condition invariably becomes worse over time and the long-term result can be dementia.
The new protein functions like a damper switch to prevent the immune system reacting against it. The peptide itself is designed to target an aggregated form of tau (which can be associated with head injury), rather than the free-floating type of the protein that stabilizes cells.
United Neuroscience is currently screening a range of vaccines in order to find antibodies that only stick to the altered tau versions. The vaccine, should it be developed and approved by regulators, would also be available to the armed services. The company also has an interest in developing vaccines for other neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
While the research has some way to go, it also raises philosophical questions: is the answer to inoculate those who participate in contact sports and thus leave the conditions unchanged; or is the answer to review the rules and to introduce improved equipment to minimize the chance or extent of contact injuries in the first place?
More about Vaccine, concussion, Football, NFL
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