Former New Zealand rugby players asked to donate their brains for research

Request is part of a study into long-term effects of head injuries from contact sports

Former All Blacks prop Ben Afeaki was forced to retire due to concussion symptoms. Photograph: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty

Former All Blacks prop Ben Afeaki was forced to retire due to concussion symptoms. Photograph: Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty

 

Former rugby players in New Zealand are being asked to donate their brains to research when they die as part of a study aimed at learning about the long-term effects of concussion and head injuries from contact sports.

The Centre for Brain Research (CBR) at the University of Auckland launched the initiative on Friday and said it was seeking athletes from sports like rugby, soccer and boxing to donate their brains even if they had not experienced concussion.

Head injuries are a major concern for New Zealand sports and health authorities with more than 20 per cent of all brain injuries in the country sustained through contact sports.

Last year more than 9,000 reported concussions in New Zealand were in people aged under 19.

“Adding a sports injury aspect to its existing research platform is a significant step for the CBR and promises to deepen our understanding of the impact sports injuries have on the brain,” the centre said in a statement.

“It reflects a growing international focus on traumatic brain injury and brain diseases associated with repeated head impacts, including Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).”

Research has also shown that CTE, a degenerative disease linked to repeated concussions and hits to the head, has been discovered in the brains of contact sport athletes who experienced repetitive brain trauma, the CBR added.

CTE currently can only be formally diagnosed by studying the brain during an autopsy, making doctors unable to confirm it in living patients.

“With a large focus on contact sports in our culture, it’s important that New Zealand is part of this global conversation,” neuroscientist Richard Faull, who leads the CBR, said in the statement.

The CBD said the New Zealand Sports Human Brain Bank would also collaborate with the US-based Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank.

The NFL has faced lawsuits from multiple former players over the league’s past handling of concussions and care for ailing retired players.

Several high-profile rugby players, including one Test All Blacks James Broadhurst and Ben Afeaki, and former Wallabies prop Toby Smith, have in recent years been forced to retire early due to concussion symptoms.

Afeaki said on Friday he would donate his brain once he died.

As did former Junior All Blacks and Waikato provincial player John ‘JJ’ Williams, who attended the launch in Auckland and has said he had been provisionally diagnosed with CTE.

“I had a reunion the other day and didn’t know any of the people until they introduced themselves,” Williams told Radio New Zealand.

“I am not the only one and there’s a lot of people, a lot of blokes that played rugby, wondering what’s going on.”

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.