Greed of Denial: Scientists Touting 'CTE' Brain Scans Profiting from Testing Company

Greed of Denial: Scientists Touting 'CTE' Brain Scans Profiting from Testing Company

The company behind headline-grabbing claims of a CTE diagnoses for living NFL players has publicly proclaimed a major scientific breakthrough, but a TauMark representative refuses to say who owns the mysterious corporation or where it’s located.

Are the doctors touting the CTE test also the businessmen profiting from it?

“I’m not at liberty to say,” responded a receptionist to questions about the ownership and founders of the for-profit venture. After repeated queries, the TauMark receptionist indicated she was in Louisiana but refused to divulge the secretive company’s whereabouts. She asked all further questions to be sent to her TauMark email address, which she promised to forward to her bosses.

The queries made last Tuesday remain unanswered. Questions about ownership stakes to League of Denial talking heads Julian Bailes and Bennet Omalu, two of the doctors touting the TauMark scans, similarly have been met with silence.  

Upon such scant information, and without any peer-reviewed data or FDA approval buttressing TauMark’s boast, nearly every major news outlet in the country gullibly reported the shadowy, for-profit venture’s claim about its commercial product’s ability to diagnose CTE in the living.  

“One of the greatest running backs of all-time has revealed a new and shocking diagnosis,” ABC News sensationally reported last week. “Doctors told Tony Dorsett that his brain has tested positive for a condition known as CTE.” Scores of other outlets, including CBS, NBC, and the New York Times similarly relayed the idea that a CTE diagnosis now needn’t come posthumously. Press accounts listed such retired greats as Dolphins receiver Mark Duper and Bills lineman Joe DeLamielleure as among those suffering from CTE along with Dorsett.

Without any academic studies embracing TauMark’s claim, or even federal approval for their brain scan, why did ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” publicize the company’s boast about its miracle test–which reportedly costs between $10,000 and $15,000 a pop? Since ESPN never bothered to identify TauMark’s major shareholders, speculation arises about whether doctor assessments about the scans represent a marketing pitch or scientific judgment.

Unbeknownst to ESPN’s viewers or Sports Illustrated‘s readers, the doctors vouching for TauMark’s science are the businessmen raking in its profits. Despite efforts to conceal ownership, clues mounted. TauMark’s internet site, which omitted any information regarding ownership, shares the same web designer with the site of TauMark booster Dr. Gary Small. Does UCLA’s Small, whose moneymaking ventures include a book touting a preventative “cure” for Alzheimer’s, own a part of TauMark? How about Julian Bailes? His friend Billy West, who also hails from Natchitoches, Louisiana (pop. 18,323), registered TauMark’s domain name with GoDaddy.

This circumstantial evidence led to proof that the League of Denial doctors hyping TauMark own TauMark. Though Louisiana’s Secretary of State’s office lists no such TauMark business associated with West or Bailes, a venture called CTEM incorporated earlier this year as a limited-liability company in West Virginia. All of the figures associated with TauMark in press accounts–Drs. Jorge Barrio, Julian Bailes, Gary Small, and Bennet Omalu, and attorneys Bob Fitzsimmons, the lawyer who sued the NFL on the late Mike Webster’s behalf, and Billy West–are listed as partners in CTEM, incorporated on March 27, 2013. Bizapedia also names famed agent Bus Cook, whose client list has boasted everyone from Brett Favre to Calvin Johnson to the late Steve McNair, as a partner.

Though press accounts did not indicate the real name of the company marketing TauMark brain scans, notes that CTEM filed for a trademark of the phrase “Taumark Better Brain Diagnostics” in August. TauMark is just the public name for a private company called CTEM.

How could so many so thoroughly botch the fraudulent story that Tony Dorsett tested positive for CTE?

The widespread reporting of a fiction as a fact raises issues of the conflict of interest inherent in vested parties determining the validity of their own research, journalists acting as unwitting press agents for entrepreneurs, the prefix “Dr.” transforming reporters’s natural skepticism into naivety, and the ethics of releasing purported scientific discoveries to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” for vetting rather than peer-reviewed publications better equipped for the task.  

Aside from omitting the glaring conflict of interest, nearly every major press outlet in America–ABC, CBS, NBC, The New York Times, etc.–neglected to mention that the near-unanimous consensus of brain scientists unaffiliated with TauMark is that CTE can only be diagnosed upon autopsy.

Even several of the celebrity doctors who own TauMark repeatedly affirmed that pre-mortem diagnosis of CTE was not possible in an article published after testing the majority of the players they now claim popped positive for the disease but before the launch of their business. Bailes and Omalu wrote in Frontiers of Neurology in January, for instance, that “there is currently no accepted method of diagnosing CTE until post-mortem pathological analysis has been conducted.”

The company’s internet site affirmed this widely accepted truth last week. But after Breitbart Sports revealed the contradiction between the site disclaimer and the public claim, and inquired about it, TauMark scrubbed its web page of the passage declaring that CTE could only be discovered upon autopsy.

The passage that read on Tuesday, “A definite diagnosis is only possible with autopsy when tau proteins are found in distinctive brain areas,” had morphed by Friday into, “Formerly a definite diagnosis was only possible with an autopsy when tau proteins are found in distinctive brain areas.”

Julian Bailes once characterized a test for the living as “the holy grail” of CTE research. The mythic quality of the much-publicized but unproven TauMark brain scan surely affirms this assessment.

Daniel J. Flynn is the author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game (Regnery, 2013).