The University of Birmingham and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust have launched a new study, supported by the Premier League and funded by The Drake Foundation, to review and potentially enhance concussion diagnosis in football.
This study is running throughout the 2018/19 football season, with urine and saliva samples collected from injured players – as well as uninjured control players – by club doctors immediately post-match and at further points over a course of a player’s recovery.
The samples are then tested in the laboratory at the University of Birmingham using a groundbreaking new test called the ‘Birmingham Concussion Test’, developed by the University of Birmingham and University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust. This test looks for molecules in the blood, saliva or urine (known as microRNAs) which can act as biomarkers to indicate whether the brain has suffered injury. Eventually, it’s hoped that this test will be used pitch-side and would have the potential to assist in return-to-play decisions or concussion diagnosis across sports, from grassroots to professional levels.
“We are delighted to fund this essential study in Premier League football,” commented founder of The Drake Foundation, James Drake, “The conversation around concussion has come a long way in the last five years and scientific research such as this is essential in keeping our players safe. We are passionate about bringing together the brightest minds from science and sports to facilitate research into concussion in sports and the processes underlying neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia, and this study really encompasses this.”
Dr Patrick O’Halloran, Sports Concussion Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham and Academy Doctor at Wolverhampton Wanderers FC said, “This research has the potential to benefit professional, grassroots and youth level footballers alike, making the process for diagnosing concussion as effective as possible. Similarly, this may be valuable in other sports or for patients in NHS Accident and Emergency departments.”
This study will also look to evaluate the effectiveness of the current Premier League Doctors Group Standard Operating Procedure for diagnosing concussion. When a team doctor suspects that a player has been concussed, there will be a pitch-side assessment, a video review of the incident at pitch-side and clinical reviews of the player after the match and in the days following the game.
Concussion within professional English football – including its diagnosis, management and long-term effects – has been discussed by sporting bodies, players and spectators for years, though still remains a significant issue. However, it is hoped that this study will provide insights and new techniques for diagnosis and future practice. In addition to this, concurrent studies are looking to improve our understanding of the short and long-term effects of concussions, which will enabled both players and officials to make informed decisions on and off the pitch.