By Billy Perrigo
November 16, 2017

A former NFL player is reportedly the first living person ever accurately diagnosed with CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the disease found in the brains of dozens of ex football players.

This breakthrough, which was made in 2012, but only published this week in the journal Neurosurgery, could help doctors identify and treat patients while they are still alive. CTE was previously only identifiable through a brain examination after death.

The subject of the diagnosis was not named in the study, but was reported by CNN to be Fred McNeill, who died in 2015 at age 63. McNeill played 12 seasons as a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings before retiring in 1985.

The disease, which is linked to repetitive head injury, has symptoms including memory loss, anger and depression. Another study, published last year, found CTE in the brains of 110 out of 111 deceased NFL players examined. The NFL acknowledged the link between CTE and football for the first time in 2016.

The new breakthrough involves using an experimental brain scanning technique, where a radioactive ‘tracer’ that attaches itself to proteins associated with the disease can be picked up by a PET scan.

The report confirmed that a study of the patient’s brain after his death revealed the CTE diagnosis had been correct. The new scanning process has been used on at least a dozen other retired players, however McNeill’s case is the first to be confirmed via autopsy.

Write to Billy Perrigo at billy.perrigo@time.com.

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