Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Should athletes be tested for the gene linking concussions with neurological disorders?

by Julia Paskin | Take Two®

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Southern California players celebrate a touchdown scored by cornerback Adoree' Jackson (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against UCLA, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) Jae C. Hong/AP

In recent years, the link between head injuries and long-term health issues has come to the forefront.

Studies have found that pro football players are significantly more likely to develop neurological problems later in life, ranging from memory loss to A.L.S. Some parents are now worried that allowing their kids to play contact sports like football will put them at risk for problems later in life.

But, why do some athletes develop neurological diseases while others don’t?

It turns out, some people have a gene that makes the brain unable to recover from brain trauma like a concussion and therefore increases the risk of brain disorders later on. 

Now, there’s a simple cheek swab test to determine if you have the gene, but athletes aren’t taking it.

For more, Take Two’s A Martinez spoke with Meeryo Choe, Pediatric Neurologist and Assistant Director at the UCLA Steve Tisch BrainSPORT Program.


How strong is the link between brain injuries in young people and health problems later in life?

Looking at the studies that are available, show that there is evidence of chronic neurological impairment in professional athletes but the studies looking at any injuries that have been sustained as a young athlete - as a child for example  or even a collegiate athlete - those studies are really limited in the information that we can see.

What gene does this test detect?

The test that has recently come out is for the APOE 4 gene. The APOE 4 gene was initially found in the early 1990’s to confer an increased risk in late onset Alzheimer’s Disease. So, because of that and because of the number of athletes who were showing dementia, people looked at that particular gene and the risk of developing problems after a concussion.

How common is the test and who’s taking it?

The test is available but it doesn't seem like very many people are taking it…. Part of the difficulty is determining what can be done with the information. The usefulness of genetic testing requires not only knowing what is being determined with a positive or negative but also having access to genetic counseling who can help guide the process after learning the results and that isn’t available for the commercial tests that are out there right now.

Why aren’t athletes taking this test?

One of the reasons that people may not be taking this test is because if you learn that you’re APOE 4 positive for example, you also learn that’s predisposing you to an increased risk of developing late onset Alzheimer’s Disease and people may not want to know that information. Furthermore, people may not that information to get to other people such as insurance companies.

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