TODAY   |  January 26, 2013

New research may shine light on traumatic brain injuries

Despite the millions of athletes who are injured with traumatic brain injuries every year, there's still no real method to assess how much damage has been done. But new research may make those damages easier to find and treat. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> here's our chief medical editor, dr. nancy snyderman .

>> reporter: wayne clark got his first major concussion as quarterback of the san diego chargers in 1972 . the doctors talked to him on the sidelines. clark didn't even remember his own name.

>> i lost all recollection of that complete day before and after the concussion.

>> reporter: you didn't lose consciousness.

>> right.

>> reporter: you got conked so hard on the head you had amnesia. now 65 clark wonders about the long-term impact of his injuries. he's not the only one. we've seen the headlines about chronic traumatic encephalopathy or cte that comes from repeated brain injury . up till now could only be found with death such as junior seau who committed suicide. now researchers have developed a way to detect damage early with a chemical that targets those proteins. the injected chemical lights up brain scans of former nfl players.

>> kind of a common hit, and i went down.

>> reporter: finding the protein clumps in parts of the brain dealing with emotion, memory, and behavior.

>> if we can find them early, then we can predict who's going to get symptoms and hopefully try to protect their brains while they're still healthy.

>> touch your nose --

>> reporter: sports physicians say this could be one of the first real objective tools in diagnosing brain damage .

>> telling how severe the damage is is part of the problem today. we don't have a good method of telling who is really at risk for long-term symptoms and who isn't.

>> reporter: wayne clark is a grandfather. he says there will always be risks in football and hopes this research could help make safer the sport he loves so much.

>> tell never be completely risk free. but we can improve. and that's my hope.