Neurodegenerative diseases

We want to determine whether, and in what way, occupational exposure increases a person’s risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
As we live longer the number of people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other neurodegenerative conditions, is increasing.  These conditions are all incurable. A number of occupational exposures are suspected to cause neurodegenerative diseases.

In the past decade, several small studies and anecdotal reports have suggested that sports in which athletes are exposed to repeated head trauma might be associated with long-term risks of neurodegenerative disease. Sports physicians and the wider sports communities are presently unclear about the long-term consequences of playing sport on neurocognitive health and the long-term effectiveness of return-to-play policies in sport.

There is also increasing evidence that exposure to fine aerosols, such as diesel exhaust particulate, may also increase the risk of a range of neurodegenerative conditions. However, it is not clear to what extent occupational groups exposed to this type of particulate are at risk of these diseases.

Also, it is well known that exposure to pesticides is associated with an increased risk of Parkinson’s Disease. It is unclear which pesticide compounds are responsible, and so it is difficult to justify further action to reduce risks.

Our research currently involves close collaboration with researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and others in studies of former elite rugby players and former professional footballers.

These projects will help policymakers and the affected communities understand whether there may be an association between playing these sports and reduced cognitive function.

In collaboration with Heriot-Watt University, we are investigating whether occupational exposure to fine aerosols is associated with neurodegenerative diseases. We are also leading a research study to improve methods to assess exposure to pesticides in occupational epidemiological studies, and these improved methods will help identify which chemicals can cause Parkinson’s Disease.

We are proud to be at the forefront of carrying out studies to determine whether, and to what extent, English professional footballers and elite rugby players may be at increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases.  We are working closely with the Football Association, Rugby Football Union, and Professional Footballers Association on these studies.

We lead the IMPRESS study developing guidance on state-of-the-art methods for assessing exposure to pesticides in occupational epidemiological studies. 

Key projects

Sponsors we have worked for 

  • The Drake Foundation
  • The European Crop Protection Association
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