Neurologists want sports stars to donate their brains to science

Neurodegenerative disorders

By Michael Woodhead

28 Jun 2018

Neurologists are calling on Australian sports stars to donate their brains to science to research into the links between head impacts and diseases like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

Jockey Dale Spriggs, who has a history of concussion, is one of several high profile sportspeople leading a campaign by pledging their brains to support The Australian Sports Brain Bank.

Dr Mobbs

Dr Rowena Mobbs, neurologist at the Sydney University-based program says brain donations are needed because CTE can only be diagnosed and studied on autopsy.

She says Dale Spriggs is living proof of the effects that concussion in a sporting career can have on an athlete’s cognition and mood.

“I have known Dale since childhood,” says Dr Mobbs who sees Dale as a patient and recently assessed his brain function.

“Dale’s symptoms have worsened since his last major fall and concussion in 2013. At first they were confusing and vague – lapses in memory, particularly short-term memory, that began affecting his daily life.

His mood, too, has declined, with features of depression, anxiety and irritability. He was previously highly easy-going, but now the slightest of life’s disruptions can trigger anger and a desire to run away from the situation, Dr Mobbs confirmed.

“His features are concerning for a concussion-related injury if not for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Pathologist Dr Michael Buckland who heads the brain bank based at Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Centre says CTE has been linked to exposure to head impacts in sports like boxing and American football but little is known about head injuries and their consequences in horse racing.

“Athletes in contact sports, like boxing, rugby union, rugby league or impact sports such as soccer, diving and horse racing may be vulnerable,” he says.

“CTE has been diagnosed in hundreds of athletes in the United States, as well as Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil,”  says Dr Buckland who is also Head of Neuropathology at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

“I think it’s time to commit to understanding the burden of CTE in Australian sportspeople, as well as learning how to prevent and treat the disease, by studying their brains after death.”

Six other sports stars have pledged to donate their brain to the brain bank, including former NFL player Colin Scotts, former AFL players Sam Blease and Daniel Chick, former rugby player Peter FitzSimons, and former NRL players Ian Roberts and Shaun Valentine.

How to donate to the Australian Sports Brain Bank:

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