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Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, a pathologist at SickKids hospital, displays a cross-section of a preserved human brain in her lab in the Toronto hospital on Thursday, December 29, 2016.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian Concussion Centre has made a curious find – chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE – in the brain of a patient who never had a concussion or traumatic brain injury. The Toronto-based CCC announced its discovery Thursday hailing it as "the first known case of its kind."

CTE, which leads to the degeneration of brain cells, was found in a patient who had been suffering with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis [ALS] and motor neuron disease [MND] for seven years. Family members told the CCC they were unaware of the patient ever having a head injury or a concussion.

"The finding of CTE in an individual who not only had no known head trauma, but also showed no signs of dementia or cognitive impairment and was high-functioning mentally until his death, highlights that the cause of CTE might be more complex than we assume," Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati said in a news release. As a neuropathologist with the CCC research team, Dr. Hazrati did the autopsy.

Prior to this point, CTE had only been found in the brains of people who have had concussions or some form of head trauma. The CCC has a working agreement with the Canadian Football League Alumni Association whereby former athletes, most of whom were repeatedly hit in the head or concussed, have agreed to donate their brains to research at the time of their death. In the brains examined so far, most have had CTE, but not every former football player autopsied did.

"Finding CTE in a patient without a history of concussion is an interesting development that opens up our understanding of this disease," said CCC director Dr. Charles Tator, the country's leading authority on brain injuries. "As researchers, we need to go where the evidence takes us, and it now seems possible that CTE affects a wider range of people. The more we know about this disease, the more likely we'll be able to figure out how to treat it and perhaps eventually prevent it."

The CCC's finding was published as a case study in the International Journal of Pathology and Research. It was also presented at the annual symposium on Research on the Concussion Spectrum of Disorders.

CTE has been found in the brains of multiple former athletes. The NFL and the NHL were sued by former players who suffered concussions and other head injuries. The NFL settled for $1-billion (U.S.), while the suit against the NHL is pending. The CFL has also been named in a class-action lawsuit over concussions and brain trauma.

With a report from The Canadian Press