International Organisations Devise ‘the Most Comprehensive’ Study on Dementia in Football, as October Inauguration Awaits

Does repeated heading of footballs, i.e. cumulative head trauma, cause a specific type of degenerative brain injury called dementia pugilistica, also known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)? If indeed it does, should CTE be treated as an ‘industrial disease’?

Last week (here), we reported that Dr. Willie Stewart’s 2-year Football's InfluencE on Lifelong health and Dementia risk (FIELD) study, commissioned by the British Football Association (FA) and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), is ‘slightly ahead’ of schedule, with full results hopefully due to be published ‘sometime in the summer’.

Interim results of the Glasgow University-based research were released in January 2019 and disseminated in BC Disease News (here). They showed that 75% of former football and rugby player brains exhibited CTE pathology, compared to just 12% of the general population.

In a new development, this week, it was announced that the Drake Foundation, the not-for-profit organisation, has joined forces with FIFPro, the worldwide representative organisation for over 60,000 male and female professional footballers, to undertake ‘the most comprehensive’ global study on mental, musculoskeletal (cartilage), neurocognitive and cardiovascular health in professional football.[i] Other co-funding bodies include Amsterdam University Medical Centres and Mehiläinen NEO Hospital, in Finland. [ii]

The ‘groundbreaking’, 10-year project will follow at least 200 players, situated in Finland, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, from the end of their playing careers (between the ages of 27 and 29) and into their first years of ex-professional life. FIFPro’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge, has described this transition as a ‘life-changing period for many players’.

A couple of years ago, the Drake Foundation funded a study, which concluded that two-thirds of the brains examined exhibited CTE pathology (according to the ‘latest consensus diagnostic criteria’), which was ‘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’.[iii]

As discussed last week, co-author of the supplementary journal article, Dr Donald Williams, has since implored the relevant authorities to ‘start the process of prevention’, after having declared conclusively that:

‘Dementia in footballers is an industrial disease’.

The Drake Football Study will be officially launched on 16 October, at the Emirates Stadium, at A Symposium – The Health Challenges in Professional Football, with contributions from various guest speakers:

  • Imtiaz Ahmad – Head of Medical Services at Queens Park Rangers Football Club, Co-Chairman of the FA Medical Society and ex-employee of Tottenham Hotspur FC, Millwall FC and the FA;
  • Professor Thor Einar Andersen – Professor at the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Centre, Consultant in Sports and Rehabilitation Medicine, Chief Medical Officer of the Football Association of Norway, ex-professional Footballer and former Team Doctor of the national Norway men’s team;
  • Jonas Baer-Hoffmann – Director of Policy and Strategic Relations at FIFPro and Secretary General of FIFPro Europe.
  • Marco van Basten – 3-time Ballon d’Or winner and ex-Coach of Ajax and the Dutch national team;
  • Sean Carmody – Academy Doctor at Queens Park Rangers DC, Secretary of the FA Medical Society and ex-Ireland senior Rugby League player;
  • Charlotte Cowie – Head of Medicine within the Medical Department of the FA;
  • Dr. Edwin Goedhart – Sports Physician, Manager of the Sports Medicine Department at the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) and Physician of the Dutch national men's team;
  • Vincent Gouttebarge – see more information above;
  • Professor Gino Kerkhoffs – Orthopaedic Surgeon and Professor at the Amsterdam University Medical Centres;
  • Gary O’Driscoll – Club Physician of Arsenal Football Club’s men’s 1st team and Head of Medical Services at Arsenal FC; and
  • Luis Serratosa – Sports Physician at the Hospital Universitario Quironsalud Madrid, having previously been 1st team Physician at Real Madrid CF from 2001 to 2013.[iv]

 

[i] Jeremy Wilson, ‘Groundbreaking new research announced into footballers' health’ (7 May 2019 The Telegraph) <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2019/05/07/groundbreaking-new-research-announced-footballers-health/> accessed 8 May 2019.

[ii] ‘Study to track health of 200 pro footballers’ (6 May 2019 FIFPro) <https://FIFPro.org/news/new-study-to-track-health-of-200-professional-football-players/en/> accessed 9 May 2019.

[iii] Ling H, Morris HR, Neal JW, et al. Mixed pathologies including chronic traumatic encephalopathy account for dementia in retired association football (soccer) players. Acta Neuropathol. 2017;133(3):337–352. doi:10.1007/s00401-017-1680-3 <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5325836/pdf/401_2017_Article_1680.pdf> accessed 1 May 2019.

[iv] ‘Drake Football Study - Conference Programme’ (6 May 2019 FIFPro) https://fifpro.org/en/players/player-s-health/the-drake-football-study/conference-programme?highlight=WyJkcmFrZSJd> accessed 10 May 2019.