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