BALTIMORE – Jonathan Martin believes he does a lot of the same things.
A former Miami Dolphins and San Francisco 49ers fighter, retired at the age of 26 before a head injury that is a specific mark of his position could cause further harm. She shed £ 50, took yoga and meditation and, after jumping from work to work, enrolled in an MBA program at the University of Pennsylvania.
But Martin, now 32, has statistics that may bother him playing football and he has had times of anxiety and depression, all the symptoms related to chronic traumatic brain injury, a brain disorder that has plagued football players and was found after death of a former teammate who. died at the age of 26.
Martin’s anxiety prompted him, in 2019, to join a study at Johns Hopkins University that could help scientists promote the treatment of symptoms and diseases associated with brain trauma and CTE.
“I wanted to be at the forefront of the solution,” said Martin, who was the target of bullying by a teammate who hit the headlines in 2013. “There should be more awareness about head injuries. I want to know how I can keep my mind on soft. ”
The study, which concludes its second phase, looks at why the brains of former soccer players continue to work overtime to correct themselves several years after the athletes stopped playing. Using PET scans, researchers track brain cells called microglia, which remove and repair damaged neurons. These cells are usually active after trauma, including convulsions, and slow down as the brain recovers.
“The microglia and the molecules they work with are essentially the brain cleaners,” said Jonathan Lifshitz, director of the Neurotrauma Research Program at Phoenix Children’s Hospital who is not involved in the study at Johns Hopkins. “They are like FEMA: they are very alert, and when they are needed, they will come in and take action.”
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Organic microglia are generally welcome when they help the brain repair itself, but their stay active long after the trauma is gone could mean that other problems are developing.
Although the activity of these microglia has been found in some who have experienced brain trauma – people in car accidents, for example – such groups may be difficult to detect and track in time-consuming research. NFL players, though, are a unique group that can easily be identified and, like Martin, may be eager to participate.
Dr. Jennifer Coughlin, associate professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and lead researcher, first observed the extra work of brain repair cells in the experiments of the study, which began in 2015. Testing four NFL and 10 former professionals whose career ended within 12 years, the Coughlin team achieved high levels of biological markers that increase as microglia activity progresses.
Such prolonged activity, he said, could be a sign that players are at risk of developing other brain-related disorders, such as memory impairment, emotional problems or Alzheimer’s disease.
“We want to know who’s brain is healing and why,” Coughlin said. “That could inform new treatments.”
To find out more, Coughlin and researchers focused on the second phase of the study for former young athletes, who were less likely to have vascular disease or other symptoms that could impair translation interpretation freely.
Martin, who since the bullying scandal has struggled with increasing stress after leaving the NFL, wondered if football contributed. He reached out to the Heritage Foundation to learn more about any possible organs, and the group directed him to the Johns Hopkins study.
“Based on some of my behavior, the question came to mind: Is there anything worse for me than normal depression?” Martin said. “Anyone who plays football knows that breaking your head is not for your benefit.”
He was first screened in late 2019 and, after research delays due to the coronavirus epidemic, returned to Baltimore in March for two days of follow-up tests.
In the first day, Martin answered questions about changes in his cognitive and mental health since his first visit. The next morning, she returned for a PET scan, an image scanner that would monitor her brain function by tracking a chemical injected into her arm.
During the 90-minute observation, Martin meditated in order to eliminate the situation of having a head inside a long-lasting metal cylinder. Karen Edmonds, a nuclear physicist, put on a damp mist that, once hardened, would make Martin’s head rest.
“Once it’s molded, it fits like gloves,” he said.
The anesthetist then placed a catheter in Martin’s left arm for 35 or more blood samples that would be collected during the examination.
Once in the PET-scan room, Martin lay on his back on the table covered with a blanket and slid backwards until his head was inside the scanning tube. Then the tracking agent was injected into his right arm, and Edmonds watched how it went on the tracking device.
“The goal is to see how much the radio monitor is burning in the brain,” Edmonds said. “There is only one dose at the beginning, and then we follow up to see how it breaks down quickly.”
After the test was over, Edmonds pulled the table and Martin out of the tap. “I have claustrophobia, but I just breathed a sigh of relief,” Martin said. “Sure you’re tired, but it has an end.”
Coughlin arrived to remove the artery catheter, which took about 15 minutes.
So far he has tested 22 former NFL players and 25 other athletes, and hopes to test 70 participants in total, better to isolate the possible causes of brain activity. Genetics, other health conditions, a player’s position on the field and when he started playing football could all be contributors, Coughlin said.
“This will allow us to analyze what is involved in people with a progressive brain injury,” he said.
Even with the participation of Martin and other players, Johns Hopkins’ research is still limited and only begins to understand how traumatized minds work. But it has the potential to help identify the onset of symptoms and symptoms associated with head trauma, not just for footballers but for people previously involved in bicycle accidents, car accidents and other conflicts.
“Currently, there is no good way to diagnose Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease early,” said Jay Alberts, a neuroscientist at the Neurological Recovery Center at Cleveland Clinic. “It is very important to be able to raise a yellow flag or a red flag.”
The study has not found, which means that Martin and the other participants are not informed of the results of their personal experiments. But Martin said sharing was about helping others like himself.
“It’s all part of being part of the research that I’m passionate about making the game better,” he said.