Steve Thompson to donate brain for chronic traumatic encephalopathy research
Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson, who was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 42, will donate his brain to scientists researching brain trauma.
The Concussion Legacy Project will use its brain to search for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which can only be diagnosed after death.
Thompson said he is committed to his brain “making the game safer.”
He added: “I promise my brain that the children of the people I love don’t have to go through what I went through.
“It’s up to my generation to engage our brains so that researchers can develop better treatments and ways to make gambling safer.”
The Concussion Legacy Project is a new brain bank formed by the Concussion Legacy Foundation UK (CLF) and the Jeff Astle Foundation, named after former England and West Brom striker died in 2002. A reexamination of Astle’s brain in 2014 revealed that he had died of a CTE.
Astle’s daughter Dawn said, “It may be many years before this puzzle is completed, but adding each piece, one at a time, is the only way to understand the real picture and so to be able to create a better future for others. . “
“It didn’t take long to decide” – Thompson
Thompson appeared in every game of England’s winning 2003 World Cup campaign, but told the BBC in December 2020 that he does not remember any of them, and reduce memory loss to frequent hits to the head during games and practices.
In July, World Rugby launched a six point player wellness plan which includes support for former players and on Wednesday the global governing body announced guidelines limit full contact training to 15 minutes per week in an attempt to prevent injury.
Addressing the change, Thompson called for the contact to be removed from the children’s play area and added: “We are going in the right direction but there is still a lot of work to be done to make sure players are safe.”
He told BBC Sport: “I believe that if we [the players making the legal claim] hadn’t come out, that wouldn’t have happened.
“We just have to be proud of these small victories to make rugby a lot safer and for everyone to continue to enjoy it.
“We are not here to destroy the game, we are here to make it safer to keep it going.”
Former hooker Thompson played 195 times for the Northampton Saints before moving to France to play for Brive. He won 73 caps for England and three for the British and Irish Lions, during a nine-year international career.
He first retired in 2007 with a serious neck injury, but was given the green light to return, before being forced to retire again in December 2011 with the same problem.
Before speaking out in 2020, Thompson was diagnosed by neurologists at King’s College London with early-onset dementia and probable CTE.
Thompson said he had felt “massive guilt for what I had done to my family” since being diagnosed and had “massive depression and massive highs.”
“Now we know and we are talking to specialists, we understand what the symptoms are and we are working around it,” he added.
“The more people who come forward, the more we can help and show that they are not alone.”
Thompson said it didn’t take long for him and his wife Steph to decide to donate his brain.
“When I was diagnosed, I was everywhere and my family was everywhere,” he explained.
“I ran into Dawn and [executive director of CLF UK] Dr Adam [White] and they put everything in place.
“They made me feel like I was not alone. In fact, it’s just what hands do you put that brain in.”
“We aim to stop CTE by 2040”
Dr Gabriele DeLuca, who will head the new brain bank, said the brain donation would help “develop tailored interventions and treatments” to prevent the “devastating consequences” of CTE.
Researchers will be looking to learn how to treat common symptoms of CTE, including problems with thinking, memory, mood, and sleeping.
Dr Adam White, executive director of CLF UK, said the organization aims “to stop all new cases of CTE within the next five years and have a cure by 2040”.
CLF UK encourages athletes and military veterans to donate their brains to CTE research.
What is CTE?
CTE is the disease found by Dr. Bennet Omalu in the brain of American football player Mike Webster, and the subject of the movie Concussion with Will Smith. In 2011, a group of former American football players filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL and won a settlement worth approximately $ 1 billion.
Omalu was the first to find physical evidence linking sports-related brain damage to CTE.
CTE can develop when the brain is subjected to many small strokes or rapid movements – sometimes called sub-concussions – and is associated with symptoms such as memory loss, depression, and progressive dementia.
Under-concussions cannot be detected on the field or during a post-game examination.
The disease cannot be diagnosed in a brain until after death, but some experts believe that if a history of exposure is evaluated, it is reasonable to conclude that the risk is increasing.
It has been found in the brains of dozens of former NFL players, as well as a handful of deceased footballers.
Dr Omalu spoke on the Scrum V podcast in December 2020 and you can listen to this interview here.
More information on dementia and details of organizations that can help can be found here.