BRAIN Study progressing well

A major scientific study of former England rugby internationals and Oxford and Cambridge University players, examining the possible long-term effects of the game on brain health, is progressing well since its launch in 2016.

The RFU, alongside leading academics from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, The Institute of Occupational Medicine, University College London and Oxford University are studying the possible link between a history of concussion and neurodegenerative disease in former rugby players. The Drake Foundation has committed over £450,000 to funding this research.

The project aims to provide a greater amount of information than is currently available from other studies on the potential medium and long-term neurocognitive risks of playing elite-level rugby. It is designed to assess the potential association between a history of concussion in rugby and general and neurological health.

Former players who have received an invitation to take part can still do so by contacting the study team on [email protected] or on 0949 533818.

An additional round of recruitment will begin shortly. Researchers are looking for around another 70 participants, over the age of 50 years, to join the 80 who have already completed an assessment or are in the process of doing so. Participants will be invited directly to be involved. Those who will be invited include some former England internationals, as well as some former Oxbridge Blues.

“I think any knowledge that we can bring in any area of concussion is going to be vital,” said former England international Jonathan Webb, who has taken part in the research, “and I think this study is going to be very important to help increase that knowledge for us. Both for players now and in the future.”

Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London Dr Valentina Gallo, who is leading the research, added: “We’ll arrange a visit and an assessment either in one of our clinics in London, Manchester or in the player’s own home. We hope to receive as many positive responses as possible because it’s very important to maintain a high response rate in this type of study.”

The in-depth research is gathering data on the retired players’ quality of life and social circumstances, and asks them to complete an extensive set of tests capturing physical and cognitive capabilities and a neurological clinical examination. The study involves face-to-face assessments either in a clinic setting or during home visits. Where agreed, blood and urine samples are also collected for future analysis.

The same tests and procedures will be used in a separate ongoing 1946 Birth Cohort Study which will provide a general population comparison.

Speaking about the importance of the study, Simon Kemp, RFU Medical Services Director noted: “The RFU has worked very hard to improve concussion education and awareness, to ensure that concussed players are recognised and removed and that the recovery and return is well-managed. This study is critical because we need to be able to articulate that risk to people involved in the game – principally the players.”

Evidence is accumulating on the possible increased risks of neurodegenerative diseases including Dementia, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease, dementia and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in former contact sport athletes.

Different sports expose players to different types of head impact events. While results from several studies have suggested an increased risk of various neurological disorders, an association has not yet been established, and this study represents an opportunity to provide an evidence-based, high-quality study of a large group of former elite-level rugby players.

For more information on the BRAIN Study visit the project page here.