Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson first sportsperson to donate brain to new ‘bank’ to combat CTE

·3-min read
Rugby World Cup 2003 , Semi Final - France v England - Telstra Stadium - Sydney , Australia - 16/11/03 England's Steve Thompson in action - Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson first sportsperson to donate brain to new ‘bank’ to combat CTE - ACTION IMAGES
Rugby World Cup 2003 , Semi Final - France v England - Telstra Stadium - Sydney , Australia - 16/11/03 England's Steve Thompson in action - Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson first sportsperson to donate brain to new ‘bank’ to combat CTE - ACTION IMAGES

Steve Thompson, England’s rugby union World Cup winning forward, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia last year, has agreed to donate his brain for research after he dies.

A new brain bank has been established by the Concussion Legacy Foundation and the Jeff Astle Foundation and Thompson, who is 42, is the first athlete to pledge his brain to further knowledge of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a type of dementia associated with head trauma.

“It’s up to my generation so researchers can develop better treatments and ways to make the game safer,” said Thompson. “I’m pledging my brain so the children of the people I love don’t have to go through what I have.”

Thompson admitted that he felt like he had let his family down following his diagnosis but now hopes to inspire positive change.

“This is affecting so many people, from amateur all the way to professional - it didn't take long to make the decision,” he said. Thompson is also among a group of former rugby professionals with early onset dementia who started a legal action last year against the rugby union authorities.

It comes as World Rugby announced new limits on contact training, a development described by Thompson as a “step in the right direction”. Thompson, though, now wants particular attention paid to children’s rugby. Dr Chris Nowinski, the chief executive of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, said that it was a pivotal moment for athletes across contact sports. “It’s time for you to step up - you still control your own destiny and can change the game you play,” he said. “We are only scratching the surface of how CTE is affecting UK citizens. And it is time to talk about CTE in our children. The only way we know how to prevent CTE is to limit exposure to repeated head impacts. Children should not be getting preventable brain disease before they are old enough to drive, vote and make choices.”

Dawn Astle, the daughter of Jeff Astle, who was found to have CTE following a post mortem, said that “brain donation is the most valuable gift” that footballers can make for future generations and called for heading to be banned in children's football. “If I hadn’t donated my dad’s brain we wouldn't be here - his brain is speaking for the living,” she said. “We don't want any family to go through what we did. We don’t want any player to go through what he did. It haunts me every single day.”

The Concussion Legacy Project will be led by Dr Gabriele DeLuca, the associate professor in the Nuffield Department of clinical neurosciences at the University of Oxford.

"Brain donation will allow us to better understand the complexities of CTE so that we can develop tailored interventions and treatments to prevent its devastating consequences,” said Dr DeLuca. Dr Adam White, executive director of the Concussion Legacy Foundation in the UK, said the organisation aims "to stop all new cases of CTE in the next five years and have a cure by 2040". Athletes and military veterans are being encouraged to donate their brains to the CTE research.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting