Claudia Müller im NAKO Studienzentrum Berlin Nord

GNC health study examines former soccer players

In the last week of March, the German National Cohort’s Berlin-North Study Center received some special guests: Former professional soccer players Claudia Müller and Sven Kretschmer underwent preliminary examinations as part of a soccer study being conducted by the GNC’s sponsoring association.

With this project, the German National Cohort (GNC) is turning its attention to competitive sports: The study’s scientists want to study the health of former professional soccer players. The project is funded by the German Football Association (DFB), the German Football League (DFL), the German Social Accident Insurance Institution for the administrative sector (VBG) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

Claudia Müller and Sven Kretschmer at the GNC

Former national soccer player Claudia Müller (left) takes part in the GNC soccer study at the GNC’s Berlin-North Study Center. Also pictured are Manuela Stendal (center), the coordinator of the study center; and Professor Tobias Pischon (right), a member of the GNC board of directors and head of both the Molecular Epidemiology Lab at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) and the GNC’s Berlin-North Study Center.

At the GNC’s Berlin-North Study Center in Berlin-Buch, two ex-professionals – Claudia Müller and Sven Kretschmer – have now undergone their first examinations. Claudia Müller played for the German women’s national team from 1996 to 2001, and also helped VfL Wolfsburg rise to greatness. During her career, she scored 22 goals in 27 international matches. Her personal highlight was the golden goal she scored in the 98th minute against Sweden in the 2001 UEFA European Women’s Football Championship – the last game of her career. One year prior to that, Müller played in the Olympic soccer tournament in Sydney, Australia, where she and her team took home the bronze medal for Germany. The GNC is Germany’s largest cohort study, involving 200,000 people between the ages of 20 and 69. Participants undergo medical examinations and are asked questions about their life circumstances and medical history.

The German National Cohort (GNC)

 

The GNC, in German referred to as the NAKO Gesundheitsstudie, is the largest population-based cohort study in Germany to date. Its aim is to understand better how major chronic diseases occur in order to improve prevention, early detection and treatment. The examination program, which lasts several hours, includes a lifestyle questionnaire and a whole range of clinical diagnostic procedures that allow scientists to examine the cardiovascular system, metabolism and other organ systems, including the musculoskeletal system. They also test cognitive and emotional functions and use magnetic resonance imaging to create cross-sectional images of internal organs and the brain. Between 2014 and 2019, more than 200,000 randomly selected individuals between the ages of 20 and 69 were examined at the GNC’s network of 18 study centers. The participants are currently undergoing follow-up examinations.

Sven Kretschmer during the olfactory test: His sense of smell was tested using Sniffin’ Sticks, which are infused with distinct natural odors.

Sven Kretschmer was chasing a ball around as soon as he could run. He started playing competitive sports as a teenager and turned professional at the age of 17 when he went to Hertha BSC. He experienced the Berlin team’s promotion to the Bundesliga and their subsequent drop to the bottom of the table. In 1992 he transferred to Eintracht Braunschweig, but he was soon drawn back to the German capital – playing first for Spandauer SV and then for Füchse Berlin Reinickendorf. In 2005, Sven Kretschmer ended his career as an active soccer player. He maintains close ties to Hertha – he has been a talent scout for the club since 2003

What can be learned from soccer players?

Like Claudia Müller and Sven Kretschmer, all former professionals participating in the GNC’s soccer study must have played in the Bundesliga or comparable foreign leagues. The aim is to study a total of 500 participants. In addition to the standard examinations performed on all GNC participants, the researchers in this study are also looking at soccer-specific variables. These include, for example, number of matches played, playing position and level of play. Using this information, the researchers want to assess the physical strain endured across an athlete’s entire career and deduce the potential influences on his or her current health status.

“The data obtained from these former competitive athletes will also be embedded in the overall GNC health study and can thus be compared with the very comprehensive database generated by the cohort study,” explains Professor Tobias Pischon, a member of the GNC board of directors and head of both the Molecular Epidemiology Lab at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) and the GNC’s Berlin-North Study Center. “This will allow us to work out risk factors and ultimately develop measures to better protect professional players.”

Plans will be made after this evaluation as to whether and how the study will continue. “To achieve a prospective analysis, it is important to continue to stay in contact with the athletes and to learn whether they go on to develop diseases later in life – similar to what is planned for the other GNC participants,” explains Pischon. Claudia Müller and Sven Kretschmer, for their part, have already indicated their willingness to stay on the ball.

Text: Jana Ehrhardt-Joswig

 

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Former national soccer player Claudia Müller (left) takes part in the GNC soccer study at the GNC’s Berlin-North Study Center. Also pictured are Manuela Stendal (center), the coordinator of the study center; and Professor Tobias Pischon (right), a member of the GNC board of directors and head of both the Molecular Epidemiology Lab at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) and the GNC’s Berlin-North Study Center. © NAKO

Sven Kretschmer during the olfactory test: His sense of smell was tested using Sniffin’ Sticks, which are infused with distinct natural odors. © NAKO

 

Contacts

Professor Tobias Pischon
Head of the GNC’s Berlin-North Study Center and of the MDC’s Molecular Epidemiology Lab

Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC)
Phone: +49-(0)30-9406-4563
tobias.pischon@mdc-berlin.de

Jana Ehrhardt-Joswig
Editor, Communications Department
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC)
jana.ehrhardt-joswig@mdc-berlin.de or presse@mdc-berlin.de

 

 

The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)

 

The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC) was founded in Berlin in 1992. It is named for the German-American physicist Max Delbrück, who was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. The MDC's mission is to study molecular mechanisms in order to understand the origins of disease and thus be able to diagnose, prevent and fight it better and more effectively. In these efforts the MDC cooperates with the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) as well as with national partners such as the German Center for Cardiovascular Research and numerous international research institutions. More than 1,600 staff and guests from nearly 60 countries work at the MDC, just under 1,300 of them in scientific research. The MDC is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (90 percent) and the State of Berlin (10 percent), and is a member of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers. www.mdc-berlin.de