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The BRAIN study is working with retired elite rugby players to find out if there are associations between a history of concussion and neurodegenerative diseases.
It is collaboration between the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, the Institute of Occupational Medicine, the Rugby Football Union, University College London (UCL) and Oxford University. The Drake Foundation has committed over £450,000 to funding the research.
The assessments which are being conducted at the ISEH gather data on the retired players’ quality of life and social circumstances, with an extensive set of tests capturing physical and cognitive capabilities - including grip strength, memory and reasoning - and a neurological clinical examination to look for signs of disease. There are face-to-face assessments as well as blood samples taken for analysis. The same tests and procedures are used in a separate ongoing 1946 Birth Cohort Study carried out by UCL.
The 200 former elite rugby players, who are over 50, are asked about their experiences of suffering concussion but the study will also assess if any other characteristics of rugby playing history such as length of career or age when they took up the game is associated with any of the health outcomes measured.
There is growing evidence on the possible increased risks of neurodegenerative diseases including Dementia, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease (PD), and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in former contact sport athletes. Different sports expose players to different types of injuries and while several studies have suggested an increased risk of various neurological disorders, this has not yet been established.
Former England International Rob Andrew who took part in the first phase of the research, said: "As a former professional rugby player I believe it is really important that we all understand the potential long-term health outcomes from playing the sport at a high level."This study will provide an insight into the health of former players, which can only be a good thing in terms of players being more informed, but also helping the sport look at how to manage both the short and long-term risks associated with injury."
Watch the below video about the BRAIN study: