IOM’s Damien McElvenny calls for caution on reporting long-term effects of head injuries in sports

13.02.2019

Today in The Lancet Neurology, experts in research and clinical practice in brain injury from around the world have asked for balanced news reporting when discussing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Damien McElvenny, Principal Epidemiologist with IOM has added his signature alongside a group 60 leading international neuroscientists calling for caution when reporting on the potential late effects of head injuries in sport.

A type of dementia associated with exposure to repeated concussions, CTE has been linked with a variety of contact sports such as boxing, football, American football and rugby.  

However, the letter’s authors are concerned about the tone of reporting around this issue – specifically the lack of acknowledgement that CTE is at an early stage of scientific and medical understanding, with many important aspects of the disease yet to be established. 

Crucially, although CTE is commonly discussed in scientific papers and the media, there is often a failure to note that there is only preliminary agreement on how to recognise this disease and no agreement on how to assess its severity.  There is also no clear understanding of the link between CTE pathology and any specific symptoms.

The corresponding author, Dr Willie Stewart, Consultant Neuropathologist and Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Glasgow, said: “In recent years there has been a worrying trend to imply that the causes, diagnosis and prevalence of CTE are fully understood, or at least that data to date leave little doubt.” 

IOM’s leading Epidemiology expert, Prof Damien McElvenny, said:Not every sportsperson who suffers from dementia will necessarily have had CTEThus is too early to search for CTE and conclude that head injury in sport must have caused a person’s dementia.”

Read the letter here.

For more information on our work within neurodegenerative diseases click here

About the Author
Prof Damien McElvenny Principal Epidemiologist

Damien is a biostatistician and epidemiologist working in the Data Science and Epidemiology Section of Research Division and is a chartered statistician.  He has over 30 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 sportsmen.  He is the Science Communication Officer for the OMEGA-NET project.  He is an Honorary Member of the Society of Occupational Medicine.

CONTACT DETAILS:

QUALIFICATIONS:

  • BSc (Hons)
  • MSc
  • PhD
  • CStat

COMMITTEE AND SOCIETY MEMBERSHIPS:

  • Royal Statistical Society
  • International Commission on Occupational Health, Secretary of Epidemiology Scientific Committee (EPICOH)
  • Secretary UK/Ireland Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology Society
  • Associate Editor, Occupational and Environmental Medicine
  • Assistant Editor, Occupational Medicine

RESEARCH INTERESTS AND CONSULTANCY ACTIVITIES:

  • 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

SELECTED RECENT PUBLICATIONS:

  • Seghezzo G, Van Hoecke Y, James L, Davoren D, Williamson E, Pearce N, et al. Feasibility study of assessing the Preclinical Alzheimer Cognitive Composite (PACC) score via videoconferencing. J Neurol. 2021:1-10.
  • McElvenny D, Davis A, Dixon K, Alexander C, Gupta G, Nixon I, et al. Systematic review of the epidemiology of single physical trauma and cancer. Trauma. 2021:Epub ahead of print.
  • 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.
  • Gallo V, Motley K, Kemp S, Mian S, Patel T, James L, et al. Concussion and long-term cognitive impairment among professional or elite sport-persons: A systematic review. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. 2020; Epub 2020.
  • Stewart W, Allinson K, Al-Sarraj S, Bachmeier C, Barlow K, Belli A, et al. Primum non nocere: a call for balance when reporting on CTE. Lancet Neurol. 2019;18(3):231-3.
  • 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.
  • Md Yusof MY, Vital EM, McElvenny DM, Hensor EMA, Das S, Dass S, et al. Predicting Severe Infection and Effects of Hypogammaglobulinemia During Therapy With Rituximab in Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2019;71(11):1812-23.
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