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test to provide pitch side diagnosis of concussion?

1 September 2017

In an interesting development, the University of Birmingham has developed a new test to diagnose concussion and brain injuries. The tests identify biomarkers found in saliva which indicate whether the brain has suffered an injury. The tests are currently being trialled by Premiership and Championship rugby players and, if found to be accurate, could enable an instantaneous diagnosis of concussion on the pitch-side with the same accuracy as in the laboratory. If the trial is a success a hand held device to diagnose concussion could be available in as little as two years.

The implications of such a device could be immense for sport. Past research suggests that concussion injuries occur as often as once in every six rugby games and accounts for around 25% of injuries in the sport. According to the RFU’s chief medical officer, at present there is no reliable or proven biomarker or objective test for the diagnosis of concussion and this lack of objectivity is the biggest challenge facing medical professionals in dealing with injuries of this nature. It is also a significant risk in terms of claims for personal injury from those who suffer concussion but are allowed to play on, sustaining greater injury.

An accurate and easily operated test would enable referees and/or coaches to assess the extent of the head injury and take appropriate action in removing the player from the game and obtaining medical treatment, avoiding any potential allegations of negligence.

It is envisaged the tests could be used widely across sports including football, boxing and even horse racing, from schoolboy to professional level. They could even assist frontline medical staff in the NHS as, along with sporting activities the main causes of concussion are road accidents and accidental trips or falls. What the test cannot do is remove the need for assessment by medical professionals, but rather will supplement their judgement. However, for those who are responsible for the assessment and treatment of head injuries it will be a welcome tool and one that may soon be widely used in the sporting context and beyond.

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