We need to give sci­en­tists brains.. not just foot­ballers’ but ev­ery walk of life

Sunday Mail (UK) - - News - Graeme Dono­hoe

Match of the Day pun­dit Alan Shearer has urged peo­ple to pledge their brains to med­i­cal sci­en­tists in­ves­ti­gat­ing foot­ball’s links with de­men­tia.

The for­mer New­cas­tle and Eng­land striker wants healthy sub­jects from all walks of life to make the com­mit­ment.

The star met med­i­cal ex­perts based at Glas­gow’s Queen El­iz­a­beth Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal and Stir­ling Univer­sity for a BBC1 doc­u­men­tary tonight called Alan Shearer: De­men­tia, Foot­ball and Me.

And his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into foot­ball ’s tick­ing timebomb has con­vinced him that the game must do more to push re­search.

Shearer said: “We need sci­ence and re­search to un­der­stand this. The re­searchers are out there. They want to do it but they need fund­ing.

“But, more im­por­tantly, they need raw ma­te­ri­als to con­duct this re­search – brains. Not just foot­balling brains or dis­eased brains but healthy brains from all walks of life.”

In­spired by Shearer’s work, the BBC are en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to sign up to the brain do­na­tion reg­is­ter by putting up a link on their web­site.

The Sun­day Mail has been cam­paign­ing on be­half of fam­i­lies of ex-foot­ballers such as Celtic le­gend Billy McNeill, who are con­cerned about the level of for­mer pros suf­fer­ing from cog­ni­tive con­di­tions like de­men­tia and mo­tor neu­rone dis­ease.

Shearer – the English Premier­ship’s record scorer with 260 goals – is the lat­est high-pro­file fig­ure to put pres­sure on foot­ball au­thor­i­ties to stop stick­ing their heads in the sand over the is­sue.

He trav­elled to Scot­land ear­lier this year to un­dergo tests for his show af­ter he started to worry about whether play­ing the game had dam­aged his health.

Lead­ing neu­ro­sci­en­tist Dr Wil­lie Ste­wart said re­searchers need more brains and that Shearer’s in­ter­est is a huge boost.

The Glas­gow Univer­sity ex­pert said: “I was very im­pressed with Alan and his in­ter­est in this is­sue can only be pos­i­tive.

“We did dis­cuss the need for brain do­na­tion for re­search. He said he would cer­tainly try to en­cour­age peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in that kind of ac­tiv­ity.

“He seemed to un­der­stand the need for more brains to be do­nated and looked at for re­search.

“He cer­tainly hasn’t signed any pa­per­work yet as it’s quite a big de­ci­sion for peo­ple to take but he cer­tainly seemed keen.”

Ste­wart added: “The brain is a black box we know very lit­tle about in nor­mal func­tion, never mind dis­ease. The only way we can find out more is by spend­ing more time analysing brains in the lab.

“The prob­lem is we are not very good at, as clin­i­cians, en­gag­ing pa­tients in that con­ver­sa­tion be­cause I think we feel squea­mish about it.

“I per­son­ally find peo­ple with chronic neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­ease are ac­tu­ally very keen to try to help.”

Ste­wart re­vealed that for­mer Eng­land skip­per Shearer was wor­ried about what his brain scans would dis­cover.

He said: “I got the im­pres­sion be­fore he went into the brain scan­ner that he was very anx­ious about what might turn up.

“We ex­plained to him that although he might be feel­ing fit and well, that doesn’t neces sa r i ly mean we won’t f ind any­thing when we put his head in the scan­ner.

“I haven’t had as many con­nec­tions with

peo­ple from his era of foot­ball but I got the im­pres­sion from speak­ing to him that this was the kind of thing that mod­ern-day play­ers are sit­ting won­der­ing about and in some cases wor­ry­ing about it.”

Shearer met de­men­tia-stricken for­mer Scot­tish foot­baller Matt Tees while film­ing his doc­u­men­tary. Tees, 78, orig­i­nally from John­stone, Ren­frew­shire, scored more than 150 goals play­ing for Air­drie, Grimsby Town, Lu­ton Town and Charl­ton Ath­letic. His heart­bro­ken wife May said: “We’ve good days and bad days. Matt’s quiet. He doesn’t talk. He now doesn’t know that this is his house. “I think I’ve learned to be very strong – I’ve had to be. “With­out try­ing hard, I can name about eight peo­ple who played foot­ball in this area with de­men­tia or Alzheimer’s. That speaks vol­umes. “Two of my grand­sons are really good foot­ballers and I went to watch one and I felt sick. “He plays sweeper and was jump­ing up head­ing the ball and I just felt my heart go­ing.” Shearer was the 20th player to un­dergo the tests at Stir­ling Univer­sity that were used for a re­port that found head­ing the mod­ern- day ball just 20 times can im­pair brain func­tion over a 24-hour pe­riod. He said: “I can’t say I en­joyed the jolts go­ing through my skull that much.” Re­sults show Shearer’s brain func­tion was ad­versely af­fected.

Dr Mag­dalena Ietswaart told him: “Really, what we’re see­ing here af­ter head­ing the ball is a dis­rup­tion of the nor­mal brain chem­istry.”

Shearer said: “I’m slightly wor­ried that head­ing any kind of ball caused changes to the brain. There’s still work to be done.

“Foot­ball should be en­cour­ag­ing these uni­ver­si­ties to do as much re­search as pos­si­ble but, like ev­ery­thing else, these uni­ver­si­ties need fund­ing.

“There’s enough money around nowa­days in foot­ball – just not enough of it has been given to re­search. It’s about time we had more de­fin­i­tive an­swers.”

He added: “I’m not ex­actly bowled over by the rush to in­ves­ti­gate. No­body in charge seems to want to know the scale of the prob­lem…if there is one.”

No­body in charge seems to want to know the scale of the prob­lem..if there is one. We need an­swers

TESTS Shearer at Stir­ling Univer­sity FOOT­BALL TRI­ALS Head­ing the ball as part of the re­search

ANX­IOUS Shearer has MRI to see how brain has been af­fected

RE­VEAL­ING Re­sults of Shearer’s brain scan af­ter head­ing ball, left Pics BBC

LE­GEND Striker play­ing for New­cas­tle in 1999

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