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English rugby clubs take part in new concussion study

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Players from Aviva Premiership Rugby and Greene King IPA Championship are to take part in a major new study that aims to develop a pitch-side test to diagnose concussion and brain injury.

Led by the University of Birmingham, the research is being carried out in collaboration with the Rugby Football Union (RFU), Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA). It will run throughout the 2017/18 season and is claimed to be the biggest study of its kind to take place in the history of UK sport.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham have created a test that measures biomarkers present in the saliva and urine of players. The test, if validated, could be done on a hand-held device, which is currently under development.

As well as being used pitch-side to determine whether a player has been concussed, the test also has the potential to assist in ‘return to play’ decisions and could be used in a range of sports, and from grassroots to professional level.

“Early and accurate diagnosis of concussion is one of the biggest challenges we face clinically and is particularly a major concern in the sporting world,” explained neurosurgeon Professor Tony Belli.

“The University of Birmingham recently made a significant breakthrough after identifying molecules, which can be found in saliva and act as biomarkers to indicate whether the brain has suffered injury.

“In this exciting next study with the RFU, Premiership Rugby and the RPA, we will collect players’ saliva and urine pre and post-injury, which we will then test in the laboratory in order to assess the reliability of these biomarkers.

“If these biomarkers are found reliable, we can continue our work with industrial partners with the hope to have a device available within the next two years that will instantaneously diagnose concussion on the pitch-side with the same accuracy as in the laboratory — a major step forward for both sport and medicine.”

The new study replaces the King-Devick research project that was conducted last season. The King-Devick results are currently being analysed and findings are expected to be published following scientific peer review.