WELLINGTON, July 23 (Xinhua) -- A researcher at the University of Auckland said on Friday they are currently establishing a sports brain bank to further investigate the brain changes of contact sport athletes so as to prevent repeated head injuries.
Earlier findings from a British study suggests there is a link between playing rugby at an elite level and changes in brain structure. The study, carried out by the Imperial College London, Britain's Dementia Research Institute, among others, was published in the journal Brain Communications.
Dr Helen Murray of the Centre for Brain Research of the University of Auckland said "there is growing concern that contact sport athletes are exposed to repeated head injuries that could have long-term effects, such as post-concussion syndrome and a form of dementia called chronic traumatic encephalopathy."
This study uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to compare the brains of elite rugby players with control groups who do not play sports and who played non-collision sports like swimming, cycling, and weight-lifting.
The scans found brain injuries in almost a quarter of the rugby players, and that half of the rugby player group had unexpected reductions in the volume of their deep brain tissue.
More research is needed to clarify whether the abnormalities they found are related to an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease and impaired neurocognitive function after playing rugby at elite levels, researchers said.
Murray said her team is currently establishing the sports brain bank initiative as part of the Neurological Foundation Human Brain Bank at the Center for Brain Research in Auckland.
"While this is a small study, it provides preliminary evidence of changes to brain structure in a group of elite rugby players. These findings highlight the need for larger studies of more athletes with a longer follow-up to validate and understand these changes," Murray said. Enditem