Zhou envisions a simple treatment for cis P-tau buildup that involves one or multiple injections of their forthcoming humanized antibody, administered after a person undergoes TBI. It could even be used as a diagnostic tool to identify whether the level of brain injury necessitates treatment, or whether a person’s body can handle clearing the toxic proteins on its own. This will undoubtedly help clarify whether people are actually ever “fine” after a concussion, which has been a contentious issue because some people seem to tolerate multiple TBIs over their lifetimes with no apparent consequences.
Lu and Zhou may never confront the NFL directly, but the troubled league should pay close attention to their work — not because it threatens controversy but because it illuminates a potential solution to the fatal problem plaguing its players. In the future, the NFL will not need to cover up the dangers of playing football if there are clear methods for dealing with the consequences.
“Before our work there was no connection between traumatic brain injury and CTE molecularly,” says Lu. “Right after traumatic brain injury, you don’t see any tau pathology, so people always say, ‘there’s no direct connection,’ and that’s true. But after these papers, I think we can identify there’s a molecular link.”
Now that they’ve identified a molecular link, the next major hurdles are to identify when a person needs treatment and then actually figure out a way to treat them.
“That will dramatically affect the field,” says Lu. “Maybe after a traumatic brain injury, we can give someone three or four injections and they can go back. That would be huge.”