Is it possible to avoid serious brain injury in contact sports?
Gum shield can help identify risk to a sports person's brain, says Mark Dillon
I'm a big fan of ice hockey and when one of the sport's biggest stars, Sidney Crosby, suffered serious concussion during a game, it set me thinking.
Ice hockey is a very physical sport and players experience multiple head injuries in a year.
After that incident, in January 2011, Crosby missed over 60 games. Initially the concussion went undetected and it took medical staff six days to diagnose it. A series of tests and game revisions led to the discovery that he had also suffered concussion in a game three days earlier.
What Mr Crosby had experienced is known as second-impact syndrome and the inability of the medical staff to detect his concussion resulted in him needing prolonged medical attention. It was only in 2013 that he returned to his previous form.
Closer to home, two Dublin players suffered concussion during this year's All-Ireland final, including full-back Rory O'Carroll, who continued playing after the incident in the second half.
Dublin had no substitutes left at the time.
The Belfast coroner recently recorded the first death from second-impact syndrome in Northern Ireland – and probably the UK – in a case involving a 14-year-old rugby player, Benjamin Robinson.
Second-impact syndrome can occur when a player is concussed yet continues to play. Concussion can go undetected and, if a second impact occurs, the effects are cumulative, and can be fatal or have serious repercussions on a player's mental health. It is said to have a mortality rate of 50pc among young athletes.
I designed my product to help medical staff identify a concussion before second- impact syndrome is experienced.
It is a gum shield with integrated sensors – an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a magnetometer, a combination currently used on aircraft. They can measure acceleration, force and 3D orientation.
Once the player wearing the gum shield experiences an impact, the data is sent wirelessly to a computer and can inform the medical staff on the sidelines if a player is in danger of being concussed.
I developed it as a final-year project in the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), where I graduated in 2012 with a BSc in product design.
I spent time with neurosurgeons in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin and also shadowing maxillofacial surgeons in St James's Hospital, Dublin.
While initial research was based around the role the helmet plays in contact sports, after my time with medical staff and professors it became obvious that many concussions in contact sports arise from impact around the jaw area.
Through various brainstorms and concept- development stages, Mamori – a Japanese word meaning to protect or shield – took shape.
* Mark Dillon (23) from Ballinteer, Dublin, recently concluded a Master's in Medical Device Design at the National College of Art and Design and is currently looking for a job.
* His Mamori gum shield was one of 20 products (out of 650 entries) shortlisted for the James Dyson Award 2013, an international student competition that celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers.