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Study: Former NFL Players Unusually Prone To Dying From Brain Disease

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Former NFL player Junior Seau. (credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Former NFL player Junior Seau. (credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL has pledged $30 million for medical research to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.

Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday announced the donation to the foundation, which helps raise private funding for the NIH, the nation’s leading medical research agency.

The same day the grant was announced, researchers published a study indicating that former NFL players are unusually prone to dying from degenerative brain disease.

The work, presented online in the journal Neurology, drew on a long-running study of more than 3,400 NFL players with at least five playing seasons in the league between 1959 and 1988. Some 334 had died by the end of 2007, the cutoff for the study.

Researchers found that deaths from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases, when combined, reached about three times the rate one would predict from the general population. The study did not look for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, but researchers said some of the deaths they counted could have been from misdiagnosed CTE.

The research funded by the NFL’s grant is designed to benefit athletes and the general population, including members of the military, Goodell said.

Potential areas of research under the grant include the brain, specifically CTE, concussion management and treatment, and the understanding of the relationship between traumatic brain injury and late-life neurodegenerative disorders, especially Alzheimer’s disease.

“We hope this grant will help accelerate the medical community’s pursuit of pioneering research to enhance the health of athletes past, present and future,” Goodell said.

The players union released a statement commending the donation.

“The players applaud the NFL’s decision to independently fund a research partnership between the NFL and National Institutes of Health,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “We look forward to reviewing their findings.”

Former Vikings defensive end Carl Eller, who is the chairman of the board for the NFL Retired Players Association, said the donation would probably help future and current players more than past ones.

“My position would be that it could have been better spent with retired players,” Eller said. “I think we have players that could benefit from that more specifically.”

Dr. Stephanie James, acting executive director of the Foundation for the NIH, expects the grant to have a positive effect on people in all walks of life.

“We are grateful for the NFL’s generosity,” James said. “The research to be funded by this donation will accelerate scientific discovery that will benefit athletes and the general public alike.”

The distribution of funds from the grant will be governed by federal law and policy applicable to NIH-funded research. The NFL will have no early or special access to scientific study data.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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