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Australian Rugby Players Asked to Donate Their Brains

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Some of Australia’s best rugby players have been asked to donate their brains after they die to help scientists study the effects concussions have on athletes in general and those from the National Rugby League (NRL) specifically. The Sports Legacy Institute, which operates out of Boston University, has hired two Australian researchers whose job is to study Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in the athletes.

They got the idea to study the brains of rugby players after Shaun Valentine, a former player with North Queensland in Australia, revealed that he regularly suffers from vomiting, nausea, and dizziness. Valentine is one of several retired players who are wondering if their health has been put at risk after all the years of taking hits to the head.

Chris Nowinski, who’s the president of the Sports Legacy Institute, is setting up a meeting with Valentine and is hoping he will be the first Australian rugby league player to donate his brain to it.

If he does donate his grey matter he definitely won’t be the first athlete to as the institute already has a bank of over 1,000 brains which were donated by boxers, wrestlers, football, ice hockey, and soccer players.

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The 32-year-old Nowinski himself is a Harvard graduate who used to wrestle in the WWE and had to retire when he was just 25 after suffering from repeated concussions. He said that today’s generation of athletes who engage in contact sport is suffering all over the world due to a huge problem which has to be solved.

He said the institute, which was launched in 2007, has already studied hockey players, NFL’ers and wrestlers, but they haven’t diagnosed rugby players as of yet.  He said they don’t have any brains in the bank and there’s nobody on the donation registry list yet. This is why he wants to meet with Valentine and other rugby players if possible.

He said the discovery of CTE in a person can only be done after they die and this is why the disease can only be studied then. It causes the brain tissue to degenerate and the person may suffer from aggression, depression, and severe Alzheimer’s when they’re living. Nowinski and his researchers are creating several brain banks with donations from former and current athletes with ex-boxer Micky Ward recently agreeing to donate his.

Australian researchers are planning on talking to some of that country’s most well-known rugby players such as Wally Lewis, Bob Fulton, and Johnny Raper. They also plan on inviting any athlete who plays a contact sport to donate their brain, no matter if they’re professionals or play in the local beer league.

David Garnsey, who’s the head of the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA), said it’s something that interests him, but he’d like to speak with Dr Richard Parkinson, a neurosurgeon from Sydney, first to see how much progress has already been made in the field. Parkinson is working in America at the moment while conducting a two-year study on the impact of spinal and head injuries on rugby players.