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Study Shows NFL Players Four Times More Likely to Die from ALS; NFL Donates $30 Million to NIH for Research on Brain Injuries

September 5, 2012

According to a new study published today in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, National Football League (NFL) players may be at higher risk of death from diseases that damage brain cells. This news came on the same day as the NFL announced it was donating $30 million to the National Institutes of Health to fund research into brain injuries and other medical issues; this represents the largest donation in NFL history. 

The study, which was supported by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and conducted by Everett J. Lehman, M.S., with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati, included nearly 3,500 former players in the National Football League, who all played at least five seasons from 1959-1988.  About ten percent (or 334) of the participants had already passed away. 

Researchers looked at death certificates of the deceased players and determined that a player’s risk of death from diseases that damage brain cells was almost three times that of the general population, and a player’s risk of death from ALS or Alzheimer’s was almost four times higher than the general population. 

“This study is another clue that brain injuries may be linked to the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS,” said Lucie Bruijn, Ph.D., Chief Scientist for The ALS Association. “More study with a greater number of participants will be needed to fully understand this relationship. Understanding how injury may trigger a long-term degenerative process may shed light on the mechanisms of ALS from other causes as well. We are hopeful that the NFL’s significant commitment to research will lead to finding a cure for ALS and to discovering treatments to help people live longer, fuller lives.”

There have been several high profile NFL players who have developed ALS, including Steve Gleason, who played in the NFL for eight seasons and last year at age 34 announced he was battling ALS. A recent episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO showed Gleason’s struggle. 

For more information:

NFL Players May Be at Higher Risk of Death from Alzheimer’s and ALS

NFL donates $30 million to NIH for medical research

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