Research Activities

The Drake Foundation is committed to investing in new, scientifically-significant studies in the area of sports-related head injuries and concussion. Our research partnerships are aimed at answering the core questions currently outstanding to better inform public health concerns on concussion in sport.

We are not currently receiving applications for funding but our Research Governance procedure can be viewed here.

Ongoing research sponsored by The Drake Foundation are listed below. Check back regularly for updates on research progress.


Last Updated 12 May 2017

Mixed pathologies including chronic traumatic encephalopathy account for dementia in retired Association football (soccer) players.

Principal Investigators: Dr Helen Ling, Professor Huw Morris, Dr James Neal, Professor Andrew Lees, Professor John Hardy, Professor Janice Holton, Professor Tamasz Revesz, Dr Don Williams
Institution: Queen Square Brain Bank, UCL Institute of Neurology, Cardiff University, Cefn Coed Hospital Swansea

This study examined former professional association football (soccer) players with a past history of repetitive head impacts and found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as the potential neurodegenerative cause of dementia and motor impairments. From 1980 to 2010, 14 retired footballers with dementia were followed up regularly until death. Their clinical data, playing career, and concussion history were prospectively collected. Next-of-kin provided consent for six to have post-mortem brain examination. The pathological diagnosis of CTE was established in four individuals according to the latest consensus diagnostic criteria. This finding is probably related to their past prolonged exposure to repetitive head impacts from head-to-player collisions and heading the ball thousands of time throughout their careers.
Association football is the most popular sport in the world and the potential link between repetitive head impacts from playing football and CTE as indicated from our findings is of considerable public health interest. Clearly, a definitive link cannot be established in this clinico-pathological series, but our findings support the need for further systematic investigation, including large-scale case–control studies to identify at risk groups of footballers which will justify for the implementation of protective strategies.

Ling et al. (2017). Acta Neuropathologica

News and Links:
Evidence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in former Association football (soccer) players.
Video interview – Dr Helen Ling discuss Drake Foundation study on mixed pathologies in retired Association football players.


Brain health and healthy ageing in retired elite rugby players

Principal Investigators: Professor Neil Pearce, Dr Valentina Gallo, Professor Damien McElvenny
Co-Investigators: Dr Simon Kemp, Professor Nigel Arden
Institution: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Queen Mary, Institute of Occupational Medicine, RFU, University of Oxford

Evidence is accumulating on the possible increased risks of neurodegenerative diseases in former contact sport athletes. Each contact sport – with different protections and different playing dynamics – exposes its players to different types of potential traumas. Evidence suggest that these are not necessarily comparable in terms of pathophysiology, and hence in terms of their potential long-term adverse effects on health. Increasing evidence on poorer general and neurological health among professional sportsmen exposed to repetitive concussions is accumulating; however there is little evidence from rugby players specifically.

This study will investigate the associations between history of concussion and general and neurological health in retired elite rugby players aged 50 years or more. A sample of approximately 200 retired rugby players (former University of Oxford and University of Cambridge Blues and members of the England Rugby International Club) will be recruited to collect a number of general and neurological health-related outcome measures via validated tests, in addition to biomarkers of neurodegeneration. The project aims to estimate the burden of physical and neurological health of retired rugby players who are now aged 50 years or more; and will assess the potential associations between a history of concussion and subsequent general and neurological health.

News and Links:
The Drake Foundation to fund major scientific study examining the possible long-term effects of elite rugby on brain health.
Video interview – Simon Kemp, RFU Chief Medical Officer discusses Drake Foundation study in retired elite rugby players.
The BRAIN Study.


A Biomarker Study Of Head Injury In Rugby

Principal Investigators: Professor John Hardy, Professor Huw Morris, Professor Henrik Zetterberg
Co-Investigators: Dr Etienne Laverse, Professor David Sharp
Institutions: UCL Institute of Neurology, Imperial College London

Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (Concussion) is the most common match injury in English Rugby with a reported incidence of 13.4/1,000hrs in the English Premiership in 2014-15 and currently comprises 17% of all match injuries. There has been increasing interest in the biology of head injury and its long-term effects, as well as the recommended recovery period following head injury.

In collaboration with Saracens Rugby Club, Professors John Hardy, Huw Morris, and Henrik Zetterberg are investigating potential head injury markers (biomarkers) measured in blood, saliva and urine together, psychometrics, and brain imaging. This study builds on Henrik Zetterberg’s work in Sweden (Shahim, P. et al. (2014). JAMA Neurology), where the team has been actively engaged in developing head injury biomarkers, working principally with the Swedish Ice Hockey League. The study aims to understand more about the immediate and long term processes in the brain following concussion and identify markers to improve the diagnostic approach and management.

Study Updates:
Study Update – February 2017

News and Links:
At the forefront of on-field Concussion research.
Video interview – Professor Huw Morris and The Drake Foundation Fellow Etienne Laverse discuss Saracens Rugby Club biomarker study.
Update on fluid biomarkers in concussion, published by Concussion.

UCL       imperial_logo   Saracens    Gothenburg

Head injury, cognition, and imaging correlates of dementia in the Insight 1946 cohort

Principal Investigators: Professor Nick Fox, Dr Jonathan Schott
Institution: Dementia Research Centre, UCL Institute of Neurology.

There are number of potential routes whereby trauma may affect brain function. The acute effects of head injury on the brain have long been recognized. However, the delayed, longer term consequences of trauma are increasingly a cause for concern and an important area of research.

In collaboration with colleagues at the UCL Institute for Lifelong Health and Aging, Professor Nick Fox and Dr Jonathan Schott are currently leading a large on-going neuroimaging study of members of the MRC NSHD 1946 birth cohort. These individuals, all born in the UK in the same week in 1946 have been studied sequentially in twenty-three waves of collection over their life course, and have detailed measures of cognition and head injury data over this period. The rich prospective clinical phenotyping combined with detailed imaging and cognitive measures as well as biomarkers and genetics (including ApoE4 status) will allow the evaluation of hypotheses regarding the relationships between head injury, other risk factors, brain pathology in vivo and cognition to be tested in a unique manner.

News and Links:
Video interview – Principal Investigator Nick Fox discusses the 1946 birth cohort and his new work this group.