The recent partnership between the AFL and NFL – focused on head injury, concussion and mental illness – has led the AFL to commit funding to an unlimited number of brain scans for retired footballers.
As reported in The Age, the approach (free brain scans to all retired footballers) is world leading and builds on recent findings by researchers in the US, reporting mild brain injury (i.e. that not leading to concussion) can have impacts on hippocampal volume and (therefore) potentially mental illness (see below).
In a brief email interview, Professor Graeme Jackson noted the importance of VBIC in this study and connecting it with similar brain injury studies as a result of road accidents or war, “all scans will be at Florey, a VBIC site, and this project connects with road and defence brain injury which will be at all the VBIC sites”.
Part of a larger study
The American National Football League (NFL) is partnering with the Australian Football League (AFL) to help fund research into head knocks and mental illness. The collaboration will be the first of its kind in the world and will include researchers and equipment at the Austin Node (namely the human MRI at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, with research to be led by Associate Professor Paul McCrory).
The link between contact sport and brain injury
There is increasing focus – and subsequently evidence – that brain structure changes in football players may be happening from the beginning of their career. In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and further report in 6minutes researchers from the US compared the brains of Gridiron players in three groups:
- Those who played Gridiron and had a history of concussion;
- Those who played Gridiron without a history of concussion; and
- Those who did not play Gridiron at all.
They found an inverse correlation between hippocampal volume and playing Gridiron, with players who had a history of concussion more likely to have smaller hippocampal volumes. The researchers indicated that even mild traumatic brain injury (i.e. that not sufficient to cause concussion), could cause changes to the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a role in regulating cognitive and emotional processes and smaller hippocampuses have previously been associated with depression, schizophrenia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.