Even more eyes than normal will be on this year’s rugby season with researchers from the University of Birmingham analysing play in a bid to develop a pitch-side test to quickly and accurately evaluate whether a player has been concussed. Although not the usual rugby injury that orthopaedic knee specialist Mr Jonathan Webb treats in clinic, one of his roles at the RFU is chair of Concussion Risk Management Group.
Similar to the one the NFL in the USA has started to conduct, the study, which will run throughout the 2017/18 season, is the biggest of its kind to take place in UK sport, and the goal is to refine and hone a test which could be performed almost instantly during games and determine if a concussion has taken place – with the long-term hope that it could not only be used across all sports and even aid military and NHS medics in making a rapid and accurate diagnosis.
When one thinks of instant sporting concussion diagnosis, the mind invariably drifts off to boxing referees holding up a number of fingers – but the team at the University’s College of Medical and Dental Sciences have developed a more technical approach. They’ve spent nine years carrying out research which has led to the development of a test that measures biomarkers present in saliva and urine. If the trial season pays off for the research team, the goal is to create a hand-held testing device.
Could saliva be the key?
Here’s what’s happening this season: players participating in the study provide saliva and urine samples before a game, which will be used as a base-line benchmark. If any of those players suffer a concussion – or are suspected to have taken a head knock – during a match, they will provide further saliva samples immediately after the event.
Players will also provide follow-up saliva and urine samples as they go through the return-to-play protocol, which will be compared to the baseline benchmarks – along with samples from other players from the same game who didn’t suffer head injury, or had other injuries.
A positive impact on concussion diagnosis
“This is an important addition to the breadth of research we are undertaking into concussion and player welfare more broadly,” said Dr Simon Kemp, RFU Chief Medical Officer. “There is currently no reliable or proven biomarker or objective test for the diagnosis of concussion and this lack of objectivity is the biggest challenge facing medical professional in dealing with this type of injury.”
Dr Kemp was very keen to point out that the study was “very much an exploratory piece of research”, but – like many others in the game – is excited by the potential of a new and rapid tool for concussion diagnosis. “This is a project that has the potential to make a very significant impact on the diagnosis and management of players following concussion” he claimed.