Leading rugby players are taking part in a major study at the University of Birmingham to help develop a pitch-side test to help diagnose head injuries.
The research is part of a collaboration with the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association.
It will run throughout the 2017/18 season and involve players from the Aviva Premiership Rugby and Greene King IPA Championship.
Experts from the university, led by neurosurgeon Professor Tony Belli, have spent nine years developing the test which measures biomarkers in saliva and urine to help identify potential brain injuries.
It is hoped a handheld device, which is currently being developed, could be used across a range of sports, but also by frontline medics in the NHS and the military.
Prof Belli said: “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.
“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 Rugby Players’ Association, 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.”
As part of the study, players will provide saliva and urine samples before a game, with those who are confirmed or suspected to have concussion injuries will provide samples following their injuries. These will then be analysed by the researchers.
Dr Simon Kemp, chief medical officer at the Rugby Football Union, said: “This is an important addition to the breadth of research we are undertaking into concussion and player welfare more broadly.
“There is currently 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 this type of injury.
“While very much an exploratory piece of research, this is a project that has the potential to make a very significant impact on the diagnosis and management of players following concussion.”