The BRAIN study is working with retired rugby players to find out if there are associations between a history of concussion and neurodegenerative disease.
The research is gathering 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 will also be face-to-face assessments as well as blood and urine samples taken 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.
The 200 former elite rugby players, who are over 50, will be 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.
BRAIN is a collaboration between the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the Rugby Football Union, Queen Mary University of London, the Institute of Occupational Medicine, University College London and Oxford University.
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.
The BRAIN study builds on a study conducted by researchers from the Oxford Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis, which included a survey of approximately 300 former England players as well as Oxford and Cambridge University players. Detailed information was collected on their playing history, past injuries including concussions sustained during their career, and their current musculoskeletal and general health.
The researchers are from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Queen Mary University of London, and the Institute of Occupational Medicine. Other partners include the University of Oxford, Rugby Football Union and UCL.