First sports 'brain bank' launched

Research shows repeated concussions can have significant effects on the brain decades later.
Research shows repeated concussions can have significant effects on the brain decades later.

Former football players Ian Roberts and Peter FitzSimons have agreed to donate their brains to the newly launched Australian Sports Brain Bank, where they will be examined for signs of traumatic injury.

There is a growing body of research that shows repeated concussions sustained through playing high contact sports, such as Rugby League and Rugby Union, can have significant effects on the brain decades later.

This was the reality for the late, former Manly rugby player Barry "Tizza" Taylor, who was diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) - a degenerative brain disease found in athletes.

Taylor's diagnosis represented the first reported case of CTE in Australia. Hundreds of cases have been diagnosed in the United States and Canada, many among high profile NFL players.

In response to the emerging issue, the Australian Sports Brain Bank was launched in Sydney on Tuesday.

A partnership between Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre, scientists will study the range of brain changes found in athletes who have had one or more episodes of concussion by examining brain tissue removed at autopsy.

The sports brain bank will work with the Boston-based Concussion Legacy Foundation to study the effects of CTE and develop a treatment and cure.

The degenerative condition has been found to cause memory loss, mood swings, depression and other cognitive difficulties in boxers, football players and others who have sustained repeated head trauma.

Head of the new Australian Sports Brain Bank, Associate Professor Michael Buckland of the University of Sydney, said CTE can only be diagnosed by examining the brain during an autopsy. Because of this sportspeople are encouraged to join Mr Roberts and Mr FitzSimons and make a pledge to donate their brains.

"We will only know if CTE exists in the Australian sporting population -- and how common it is -- by examining the brains of Australian sportspeople, with and without a history of concussion or other head injury," said Professor Buckland.

He said Barry Taylor's diagnosis of CET was a big "wake up" call for the Australian sporting community and it is time to commit to investigating its impact.

"The Australian Sports Brain Bank will assist international efforts to develop guidelines for the prevention, identification and potential treatment of CTE by helping to understand the cellular and molecular changes in the brains of our donors," he said.

Australian Associated Press