Breakthrough study examining brain health of former professional footballers announced


IOM is one of three UK-based researchers aiming to shed light on the possible association between a history of head impacts and neurodegenerative disease in former association football players in a £660,000 study funded by The Drake Foundation.

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Queen Mary University of London and the IOM will recruit former players through the Professional Footballers’ Association to examine the link between heading the ball or concussions and long-term cognitive function.

Evidence has been accumulating on the potential increased risk of neurodegenerative disease in former athletes exposed to head impacts. This issue was highlighted by the publication of a pathology study in February 2017, funded by The Drake Foundation, which reported chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in the brains of four former association footballers known to be frequent headers of the ball.

Through detailed assessments, researchers will gather data on the retired footballers’ playing history, work history and lifestyle factors, while an extensive set of tests will capture physical and cognitive capabilities, in addition to a neurological clinical examination. As well as face-to-face assessments, there will be an option to provide blood samples for biomarker measurements.

Hannah Wilson, Programme Manager for The Drake Foundation explained, “We are delighted to further our partnership with this leading group of researchers. We hope this much-needed study will allow some insight into the potential consequences of a professional football career on brain health.”

 “Many people have waited many years for a study like this,” added James Drake, Chairman of The Drake Foundation. “The Drake Foundation is proud to be funding this work and to be a part of this important step forwards in our understanding of sports-related concussion and its long-term effects.”

“For the first time this study will include a detailed assessment of players’ football heading histories, which could be influenced by factors such as position played, decade of play and level played at” Damien McElvenny & John Cherrie, IOM.

The study, supported by the Rugby Football Union, will build on partnerships established through the ongoing BRAIN study, launched in 2016 to assess brain health in former rugby players.

To date The Drake Foundation has invested over £1million into the links between the history of head impacts and neurodegenerative disease in former sportspeople.


About The Drake Foundation

The Drake Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation committed to improving understanding of concussion injuries in sport, based on scientific research and insight. Through collaboration we aim to ensure that progress continues towards a better understanding of sports-related concussion and safety is improved for years to come.; [email protected]; 020 837 16092

About The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) is a world-leading centre for research, postgraduate studies and continuing education in public and global health. LSHTM has a strong international presence with more than 1,300 staff and 4,000 students, and an annual research income of more than £124 million. LSHTM is one of the highest-rated research institutions in the UK, is partnered with two MRC University Units in The Gambia and Uganda and was named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2016. Our mission is to improve health and health equity in the UK and worldwide; working in partnership to achieve excellence in public and global health research, education and translation of knowledge into policy and practice.; [email protected]; 020 792 72802

About the Author
Prof Damien McElvenny Principal Epidemiologist

Principal Epidemiologist

Damien is a biostatistician and epidemiologist working in the Data Science and Epidemiology Team of Research Group and is a chartered statistician.  He has over 35 years' experience working in a variety roles relating to the statistical analysis of health data in the public and private sector.  Damien joined IOM in 2011 and has successfully led many research projects including those related to cancer in the lead, rubber and hard-metal industries as well as projects on shift work and cancer and trauma and cancer.  He has led a number of consultancy projects, including medico-legal reports on clinical and occupational epidemiology.  Damien is IOM's lead for the BRAIN and HEADING studies that are examining the effect of concussion and heading football on elite and professional sportspersons.  He is an Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and an Honorary Member of the Society of Occupational Medicine.



  • BSc (Hons)
  • MSc
  • PhD
  • CStat
  • Hon FFOM


  • Independent Scientific Member, Industrial Injuries Advisory Council
  • Royal Statistical Society
  • International Commission on Occupational Health,  Epidemiology Scientific Committee (EPICOH)
  • Secretary UK/Ireland Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Society
  • Assistant Editor, Occupational Medicine


  • Meta-analyses and systematic reviews
  • Occupational epidemiology (respiratory disease, cancer, neurological disorders, mental health, musculoskeletal disorders)
  • Disease cluster investigations
  • Medico-legal reports (statistical and epidemiological)
  • Risk assessment
  • Health impact assessment


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  • Mijakoski D, Cheptea D, Marca SC, Shoman Y, Caglayan C, Bugge MD, et al.  Derminants of burnout among teachers: a systematic review of longitudinal studies.  Int J Environ Res Publ Health 2022; 19, 5776
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  • Aktas E, Bergbom B, Godderis L, Kreshpai B, Marinov M, Mates D, McElvenny DM, Mehlum IS, Milenkova V, Nena E, Glass DG.  Migrant workers occupational health research an OMEGA-NET working group position paper.  Int Arch Occup Environ Health 2021.  doi: 10.1007/s00420-021-01803-x.
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  • Sweity S, Sutton C, Downe S, Balaam MC, McElvenny DM.  Challenges to and facilitators of occupational epidemiology research in the UK.  Health Policy 2020, 124(7): 772-80.
  • Onwudike M, Abbas K, Thompson P, McElvenny DM. Role of Compression After Radiofrequency Ablation of Varicose Veins: A Randomised Controlled Trial. Eur J Vasc Endovasc Surg. 2020.
  • Mueller W, Cowie H, Horwell CJ, Baxter PJ, McElvenny D, Booth M, et al. Standardized epidemiological protocols for populations affected by volcanic eruptions. Bulletin of the World Health Organization. 2020;98(5):362-4.
  • IARC Monographs Vol 127 Group. Carcinogenicity of some aromatic amines and related compounds. The Lancet Oncology. 2020.
  • Hidajat M, McElvenny DM, Ritchie P, Darnton A, Mueller W, Agius RM, et al. Lifetime cumulative exposure to rubber dust, fumes and N-nitrosamines and non-cancer mortality: a 49-year follow-up of UK rubber factory workers. Occup Environ Med. 2020.
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  • Steenland K, Barry V, Anttila A, Sallmen M, Mueller W, Ritchie P, et al. Cancer incidence among workers with blood lead measurements in two countries. Occup Environ Med. 2019;76(9):603-10.