France is still woozy with World Cup fever and rightly so (Allez Les Bleus), which makes today’s blog post particularly topical. That’s because a new study has set out to discover whether repeatedly heading a football can cause damage to the brain and lead to long-term health problems. Involving 300 former professional footballers, the study plans to put the ex-players through a series of tests that are designed to assess their physical and cognitive capabilities. Clinical examinations will be performed on the players, all aged between 50 and 85, while additional data relating to their playing careers and lifestyle choices will also be sourced. This is so the study researchers can differentiate between the players’ former positions and draw more accurate comparisons. The footballers’ results will then be compared to available population data relating to individuals born in 1954 who have had their ageing processes monitored since birth. The researchers hope this will allow them to discover if mild concussions in football that often occur when a player heads the ball can have long-term effects. The study will be carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), Queen Mary University of London and the Institute of Occupational Medicine. Lead researcher Prof Neil Pearce, from LSHTM, said: “This study will provide, for the first time, persuasive evidence of the long-term effects on cognitive function from professional football.”
The harmful Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitoes and causes devastating brain damage in babies, could be used to treat aggressive brain cancer in adults, according to US scientists. Up until now, Zika has only been seen as a major global health threat, but the new research could see it become a remedy. The scientists say the virus can be used to selectively infect and destroy hard-to-treat cancerous cells in adult brains. In mice studies, the Zika virus was seen to successfully shrink aggressive tumours, yet left other brain cells unscathed. While human trials are still quite a way off, laboratory tests show that the virus works on human cells, and experts believe the Zika virus holds a huge amount of potential. They say it could be injected into a human brain at the same time as surgery to remove life-threatening tumours. Some brain cancers are fast growing and spread quickly through the brain. This makes it very difficult to see where the tumour finishes and healthy tissue begins. As an extra precaution, the team from Washington University School of Medicine and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine have already begun modifying the Zika virus to make it less potent than the regular strain. Researcher Dr Michael Diamond said: "It looks like there's a silver lining to Zika. This virus that targets cells that are very important for brain growth in babies, we could use that now to target growing tumours."