Sunday 25 September 2016

Trinity team working on blood test to protect concussed rugby players

Sam Griffin

Published 18/08/2015 | 02:30

The medical staff are always extremely cautious when a rugby player, such as Johnny Sexton, above, suffers concussion
The medical staff are always extremely cautious when a rugby player, such as Johnny Sexton, above, suffers concussion

Irish scientists are developing new blood tests that could help protect players who suffer concussion during rugby matches.

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Two new initiatives are being developed by a team of researchers in Trinity College as part of an effort to target the growing problem suffered by players taking bigger tackles than ever before.

Professor Ciaran Simms, from Trinity's centre for bioengineering, and Dr Fiona Wilson, from the physiotherapy department, are working with Leinster rugby to improve diagnosis and analysis of concussion.

It is hoped the research will remove "the subjectivity of injury assessment" from the game and ultimately protect players from serious brain injury.

Concussion has been a major point of debate in world rugby this year, with high profile cases involving stars such as Ireland out-half Johnny Sexton and Wales winger George North.

The academics are working to develop a suite of new techniques to more accurately detect concussion.

One of the initiatives looks at 'blood biomarkers'. As part of the research, players' blood was examined after a rest period and then again after consecutive games.

Where players have suffered concussion, the blood samples are sent to a metabolomics laboratory in Denmark where they are compared with patients who have suffered brain injury.

Dr Wilson said similarities and patterns can be identified between the two to prove a player has suffered a particular kind of injury.

"It's a modern take on an ancient art. In Medieval times, they would look at urine and look at the colour and the smell and things. We know measuring things in the blood stream is a very effective way of assessing what is going on in the body," she told the Irish Independent.

"We look for specific patterns between the blood samples. What's really difficult is trying to assess when a person can return to play."

Dr Wilson envisages that eventually a diabetes-style finger-prick test could be developed that could be carried out during or just after a game.

The second initiative, which looks at the 'kinematics of concussion', compares pedestrian crash research and injuries sustained in sport. The researchers have recently been given permission to analyse actual hits that resulted in injuries endured by Irish rugby players.

They will examine the hits from various camera angles and try to identify factors which contribute to head injury.

Irish Independent

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