English rugby is this season to incorporate groundbreaking concussion research by recording saliva samples of players who suffer head injuries in order to help the future development of a handheld device that could quickly tell whether or not a player is concussed just from their saliva.
The two top domestic divisions, the Aviva Premiership and the Greene King IPA Championship, are to trial this new in-game method of evaluating possibly concussed players this season.
The existing HIA protocol will still be in place and will still be how players are deemed fit or unfit to return to the field of play this year.
The goal with this change is to help develop a handheld device that in the future may be used to determine whether or not a player is fit enough to continue. It would do so by analysing their saliva sample to quickly diagnose whether or not they are concussed.
Saliva and urine tests will now be carried out on all players before the season starts. Then, during the season whenever a player sustains a head injury, they will be asked to provide a saliva sample pitch-side. Urine samples will also be collected later on.
All of these samples will then be studied with any differences between samples pre and post-injury documented.
The introduction of this trial has come about through a collaboration between Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players' Association and the University of Birmingham.
Neurosurgeon professor at the University, Tony Belli has spoken about the need for this research.
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 RPA, 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.
Quotes from Dr. Simon Kemp, RFU Chief Medical Officer, only further highlight the need for such groundbreaking research to be conducted as the current treatment of head trauma is too subjective.
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 professional 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.
This study will replace another study, the King-Devick research project, which was conducted last year. Its results are currently being examined.