Authors: Alice Weatherston
An important prospective study of biomarkers of concussion in rugby players has recently commenced at University College London (UK). The study, which has been funded by The Drake Foundation and is running in partnership with Saracens Rugby Club, provides an opportunity to further expand work that is already providing key psychometric and impact data on mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) in the sport.
Concussion or mTBI is notoriously difficult to diagnose, and recently increasing concern has been raised about both the short- and long-term impacts of mTBI in athletes competing in contact sports.
In January 2015, Saracens players began wearing impact sensors to measure the force and direction of head impacts experienced throughout the game, providing key data for evaluating head injuries. The assessment of clinically relevant biomarkers marks the beginning of the next phase of the study as the sport enters into the Rugby World Cup 2015 and the new season of the Aviva Premiership.
“The impact sensors have been providing us with data during matches and training but analyzing players’ blood biomarkers in conjunction with neuroimaging and psychometric testing will greatly expand this study,” commented Saracens Head of Medical, Joe Collins.
Under the lead of Huw Morris and John Hardy (both University College London), the research team will be collecting saliva, blood and urine samples from players following concussive and subconcussive head injuries during matches and training, as well as throughout recovery periods.
A range of candidate biomarkers, including S-100B, Total tau, tau fragments, Neuron-specific enolase, Neurofilament light chain (NFL) and UCH-L1 will be evaluated, in addition to exploring the presence of other currently unknown markers.
The research team hope that the study, which is planned to continue over the next 3 years, will go some way in identifying biomarkers of concussive events as well as how these biomarkers correlate with long-term impacts and recovery.
The Drake Foundation Chairman and Founder, James Drake, commented: “There is a pressing need to better understand the biology of head injuries, and we hope that the results will give evidence-based facts to improve measures for participant safety in contact sports.”
“This is such a complex subject, we hope this is another step forward as we look to increase our understanding,” added Collins.
The study helps to increase the pool of ongoing evidence-based research into sports-related concussion that may importantly aid in informing future management protocols and controlling risks for athletes in later life.