Webinar: ALS and the National Football League

A webinar (Web-based seminar) about neurodegenerative causes of death, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), in retired National Football League (NFL) football players is scheduled for 1 p.m. EST, Nov. 15, 2012.

"ALS and the NFL," hosted by the nonprofit biotech ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI), will feature a discussion between ALS TDI President and CEO Steve Perrin and occupational epidemiologist Everett Lehman.

Lehman, who serves as deputy division director in the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations & Field Studies at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), published study results online Sept. 5, 2012, in Neurology, which show that men who play certain "speed" positions in NFL football have an elevated risk of death from ALS compared to men in the general population. (See Neurodegenerative Causes of Death Among Retired National Football League Players.)

Those interested in viewing the webinar may register online.

Risk of ALS-associated death is higher in NFL players

Lehman and colleagues studied 3,439 retired NFL players (334 of whom were deceased) who had played in the league for at least five years between 1959 and 1988. ALS was listed as an underlying or contributing cause of death for seven players, and risk of death associated with ALS in NFL players was found to be four times higher than that of the general population.

The increased risk was found only in players who held "speed" positions such as quarterback, running back, halfback, fullback, wide receiver, tight end, defensive back, safety and linebacker. These players have a higher risk of concussion due to factors such as high acceleration and multiple impacts experienced during games. (A concussion is a trauma-induced brain injury that can occur with or without a loss of consciousness, and that may affect mental functioning.)

Another, recently defined neurodegenerative disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), was not included in the study. CTE is a disease associated with head and brain trauma that causes symptoms similar to those found in people with ALS or other neurodegenerative diseases.

Some of the deaths in the study that were attributed to ALS may in fact have been due to CTE, which would make the actual risk of NFL player death from ALS somewhat less certain.

Study researchers noted that more studies are needed to definitively pinpoint the cause of the increased risk of ALS in NFL football players, but high-impact head injuries are a plausible candidate.

More information

Based in Cambridge, Mass., ALS TDI is dedicated to developing effective treatments for ALS. MDA partnered with ALS TDI to launch the largest drug discovery project in ALS to date, and provides the organization with ongoing support.

To learn more about ALS and CTE, read:

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