The Drake Foundation

Introduction  

The Drake Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation committed to understanding and improving the health and welfare of people impacted by head injuries, including sports players and IPV (intimate partner violence) survivors, through scientific research and collaboration.

 

The Foundation has funded eight research projects to provide an evidence-based understanding of the link between sport-related head impacts and long-term health outcomes. It also funds the annual Drake SHIR Symposium and a scientific journal, to aid scientific progress and collaboration. As of November 2021, the Foundation has invested over £2 million into research on head injury in sport and IPV.

 

Research & Projects

The studies are largely centred on football and rugby, exploring the short- and long-term and effects of head impacts in sport. In 2021, the Foundation expanded its scope beyond sport, funding a study into the long-term effects of domestic abuse on the brain.

 

The sporting studies include the Drake Rugby Biomarker Study, which is exploring biomarkers of head impacts in current elite rugby players, and the HEADING study, which is exploring the links between professional career and long-term effects on brain health.

 

Drake Rugby Biomarker Study

Having commenced at Saracens Rugby Club in 2015, this longitudinal study involves players from a number of Premiership and Championship rugby union and rugby league teams. The study involves collection of blood, saliva and urine in an effort to uncover potential biomarkers of concussion injuries, as well as using advanced neuroimaging techniques and cognitive testing to investigate any changes associated with participation in elite rugby.

 

In 2021, the initial results from the neuroimaging wing of the study were published. These results showed that 23% of the elite rugby players in the study had abnormal changes to the white matter or vasculature of their brains, which was detected using advanced MRI scans. 

 

BRAIN Study

The BRAIN study is working with retired rugby players from the amateur era to uncover associations between a history of concussion and neurodegenerative disease.

 

It is the first to carry out detailed measurements of cognitive function in a large number of former players and to relate this to their concussion and playing history. It was conducted mainly by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. It is also the first to include substantial numbers from the over-75 age-group. To examine brain health trends, participants took part in an extensive set of tests capturing physical and cognitive capabilities.

 

Initial findings from the BRAIN study were published in 2021 and showed no overall association between later life cognitive function in rugby players from the pre-professional era (aged 50+) and concussion history, although there was an association between a higher number of concussions and poorer cognitive function in the over 75s age group.

 

The Drake Football Study

The Drake Football Study is the most comprehensive study to-date to measure the mental and physical health of professional footballers over time and was officially launched at a dedicated symposium in London in October 2019. The Drake Foundation is the founding funder of the study, which is also co-funded by FIFPRO, Amsterdam University and Finland's Mehilainen NEO Hospital, and also has support from a number of players’ unions across Europe.

 

HEADING Study

The HEADING Study is working with retired footballers to uncover associations between a history of heading the ball or concussion and neurodegenerative disease. It is being run by researchers based at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

 

In 2021, England manager Gareth Southgate announced he would be taking part in the HEADING study.

 

Mixed pathologies, including chronic traumatic encephalopathy, account for dementia in retired association football (soccer) players

This study examined former professional association football players with a past history of repetitive head impacts and found chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) as the potential neurodegenerative cause of dementia and motor impairments.

 

From 1980 to 2010, 14 retired footballers with dementia were followed up regularly until death. Their clinical data, playing career and concussion history were prospectively collected. Next-of-kin provided consent for six to have post-mortem brain examination. The findings of this study were published in 2017, finding that all six of the footballers’ brains that had undergone post-mortem examination had evidence of Alzheimer’s disease, and four had evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy according to the latest consensus diagnostic criteria.

 

Drake IPV Study

The Drake IPV Study is investigating any changes in neuroimaging and cognitive test data in individuals exposed to domestic abuse, as well as any changes that correlate with measures of TBI exposure, and comparing these with population controls with no reported history of abuse.

 

The study is being run by researchers at Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, including Prof Willie Stewart, who is known for his work into football and dementia.