CHICAGO (CBS) — For the first time ever, researchers may have detected CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a living person.

The condition is often caused by concussions and the discover was made in the Chicago area. CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole talked to one of the researchers.

“If you can only tell someone they have a disease when they are dead, you can’t help them,” said Dr. Julian Bailes, neurosurgeon.

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Neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes from North Shore Univeristy Health Systems (CBS)

But unfortunately after years of consecutive blows to the head in professional football or cranial trauma experienced in the military, a dimential like condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE was only detectable by autopsy after death.

“We think there is a characteristic pattern seen with CTE sufferors that is not seen with other forms of dementia,” Bailes said.

That would be the clustering of a protein called tau, which builds up around damaged brain cells, it’s indicated in the red areas in scans.

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CTE brain scan. (CBS)

CBS: Does this offer hope?

“I believe it does,” Baile said.

Now for the first time researchers have connected the tau clustering scans of a late NFL player taken while he was alive, to his autopsy confirming his CTE.

“We have a lot more work to do. It’s one case, but it’s perhaps the way science begins,” he said.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Julian Bailes from North Shore Univeristy Health Systems was among the study’s researchers. He’s dedicated his career to the study of brain trauma and was even portrayed by Alec Baldwin in the film, “Concussion.”

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CTE brain scan. (CBS)

Family members have confirmed to media outlets the NFL player in the study is former Minnesota Viking Linebacker, Fred McNeil, who died in 2015. Later in life he began exhibiting potential signs of CTE. Though this discovery is promising, researches admit a test for those living with CTE may take years to develop.

“Probably, but we may be closer than you think. Maybe just a few years,” Baile said.

A living test for CTE could help NFL professionals know if they need to stop playing. Much more research is necessary, but this is an important first step.

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