Probert, who was 45 when he died of heart failure, left his brain to science because he believed the head trauma he experienced on the ice had caused permanent damage.
Turns out, he was right.
Thanks to Probert and other athletes who have allowed scientists to study their brains after death, we're learning more about CTE and how it can be prevented.
Here are five facts about this progressive, degenerative brain disease.
1. It was first detected in boxers
According to the Boston University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (CSTE), the leading center for CTE research, the disease was recognized in boxers as early as the 1920s. Since then it's been diagnosed in retired football players, former hockey players, wrestlers and other athletes with histories of repetitive head trauma and concussions.
2. An abnormal protein causes symptoms
Boston University researchers say CTE symptoms are triggered by the buildup of an abnormal protein called tau. This protein accumulates over time after repetitive injuries to the head. Symptoms may not be detected for many years after the injuries end, which is why CTE has been found found in athletes long after they've quit playing.
3. It can lead to dementia
Symptoms of CTE vary from person to person. Some research has shown that the repetitive brain trauma that underlies CTE may result in symptoms similar to ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. CTE can also cause confusion, memory loss, aggression, depression, impulse-control problems and progressive dementia.
Although the CSTE has been critical of professional sports leagues for not doing enough about player safety, in April the NFL stepped forward with a $1 million no-strings-attached grant to fund CTE research.
5. A "brain bank" is a key to future breakthroughs
In 2008 the CSTE and the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Bedford, Mass., established the CSTE Brain Bank. By studying brain tissue of deceased athletes like Probert, the CSTE hopes to develop effective diagnostics for CTE, treatment plans and a better understanding of the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to the disease.
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