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The 4th Annual UK Sports Concussion Research Symposium: highlights and key takeaways

Written by Kimberley Ndungu, Editor of Concussion Zone

Originally published on Concussion Zone. Read the full article here.

On the 27th November 2019, we had the pleasure of attending the 4th Annual UK Sports Concussion Research Symposium at Twickenham Stadium (London, UK). The Symposium, this year jointly hosted by The Drake Foundation, Rugby Football Union, Football Association, England and Wales Cricket Board and British Horseracing Authority, featured updates in concussion research from a range of different sports and highlighted potential future directions.

In this report, I’ll share my highlights from the day and summarize some of the main key takeaways.

Football focus – where are we now?

In the first morning session, chaired by Charlotte Cowie (Head of Performance Medicine at the FA), speakers provided updates on their football-focused concussion research and provided insight on what the future direction for this field should be.

The FIELD study: neurodegenerative disease in former professional footballers and mental health outcomes

The first talk of the day was from Willie Stewart (University of Glasgow, UK), who presented findings from the recent initial publication from the FIELD study, which revealed that former professional footballers have an increased mortality from neurodegenerative disease. Learn more about FIELD’s findings here. So far from the FIELD study data, only a history of heading the ball has been identified as a risk factor for the development of neurodegenerative disease in footballers. Therefore, Stewart concluded that there is a need to reduce the risk of head injuries and better manage head injuries when they do occur. The FIELD study aims to further these initial findings by comparing all-cause and disease-specific mortality in former professional footballers to a matched general population comparison group.

During his talk Stewart emphasized the importance of remembering the positive outcomes a career in football can have. Though the findings from his study show an increased risk of developing a neurodegenerative disease, the risk of developing other diseases, such as lung cancer and ischemic heart disease, is significantly reduced. This became a recurring theme through the day: while evidence is mounting that links a history of repetitive head impacts with cognitive and pathological impacts later in life, the other health benefits of taking part in sport can be huge and should not be forgotten.

Further soon-to-be-published work from the FIELD study was presented by Emma Russell (University of Glasgow, UK), who focused on the growing concern surrounding players mental health.


Natalie Jenkins (University of Edinburgh, UK) presented updates on the PREVENT dementia studies, which aim to identify the earliest signs of neurodegenerative disease in order to increase disease prevention by risk detection. In particular, Jenkins talked through the PREVENT:FC and PREVENT:RFC arms of the study that plan to use imagining techniques to assess the brains of footballers and rugby players, respectively.

HEADING study update

Both Damien McElvenny and Ioannis Basinas (both Institute of Occupational Medicine, UK) mentioned heading exposure again during their talk, as they provided an overview of The Drake Foundation-funded HEADING study, which aims to find out if there are any associations between history of concussion and/or heading the ball with the development of neurodegenerative disease. In the HEADING study – for which assessment has now started – former elite footballers will undergo series of tests evaluating their physical and cognitive capabilities, as well as neurological clinical examinations. The study will also seek to assess and categorize heading exposure in these former players.

The study is now actively recruiting participants: if you are a retired football player and have received an invitation to participate, please use the contact details provided in your invite to reply to the study investigators.

For any other queries on the HEADING study, you can contact the research team via [email protected].

Originally published on Concussion Zone. Read the full article here.