BOSTON (WHDH) - Researchers at Boston University say they may have found a way to diagnose chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in living patients for the first time.

The findings may also help researchers distinguish CTE from Alzheimer’s disease, which has symptoms similar to CTE, according to the university’s research.

RELATED: Aaron Hernandez had severe CTE; daughter sues NFL, Patriots

In compiling the study, researchers studied brains of former college and professional football players and compared them to that of 50 non-athletes with Alzheimer’s as well as 18 non-athlete controls.

The findings determined that the non-athlete brains and brains of non-athletes with Alzheimers had normal levels of the biomarker CCL11 but were significantly higher in those with CTE. Researchers also said levels were correlated to the number of years played in the athletes.

One of the authors in the study, Jonathan Cherry, says “the findings of this study are the early steps toward identifying CTE during life.”

“This is the cherry on top of other previous findings,”researchers said.

It is not yet known if the increased levels of CCL11 are part of an early or late part of the disease or could predict the severity of the disease.

“It might be a way to help identify younger people who are involved in sports that may already have some development of CTE and maybe get them to rethink what they’re doing,” said George Leontire, attorney for Aaron Hernandez’s family. The family of the former Patriots tight end is filing a lawsuit against the NFL and Patriots, saying they did not protect Hernandez from CTE.

Leontire also criticized President Donald Trump for his criticism of the NFL changing their rules to make the game safer.

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