Former Australian rules player Heather Anderson has been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, CTE, in the first known case of the degenerative brain disease in a professional female athlete.
Anderson played seven games for Adelaide in the Australian Football League Women’s competition in 2017 and retired later that year. She took her own life aged 28 in November 2022.
Anderson’s family donated her brain to the Australian Sports Brain Bank, ASBB, and the findings were published on Tuesday in the Springer Medical Journal.
Researchers said the neuropathological findings fulfil current diagnostic criteria for low-stage CTE.
“She is the first female athlete diagnosed with CTE, but she will not be the last”, the authors of the paper wrote.
Anderson, who was a medic in the Australian defence force, also played rugby league during her contact sports career.
ASBB director Michael Buckland, who co-authored the paper, disclosed that there were “multiple CTE lesions as well as abnormalities nearly everywhere I looked in her cortex
“It was indistinguishable from the dozens of male cases I’ve seen”.
Buckland told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the diagnosis was a significant step in understanding the effects that years of playing contact sports has on women’s brains.
“It’s a real red flag that now women are participating, in contact sport, just as men are, that we are going to start seeing more and more CTE cases in women”, Buckland said.