REpetitive COncussion in Sport (RECOS)

Aim: In phase one researchers identified and patented specific microRNAs as blood and saliva biomarkers and advanced neuroimaging parameters that can predict prolonged symptoms and can be used to monitor recovery after concussion. Now in phase two the biomarker panel is being validated on 65 athletes with a view to developing a diagnostic device to be used pitch-side.

Background: Sport concussion, defined as a brief period of loss of consciousness, memory loss or feeling dazed or confused following trauma to the head, is a common cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI). This type of mild TBI accounts for 10-25% of all recorded head injuries worldwide. The majority of patients improve rapidly following a single concussion, but repeated concussion prolongs recovery times after each incident. Patients also experience a high incidence of cognitive and behavioural dysfunction, post-traumatic stress disorder and social isolation.

Certain groups of patients, such as athletes and soldiers are at greater risk of repetitive concussion – potentially leading to a catastrophic form of brain injury known as second impact syndrome, thought to be due to the second insult occurring inside a window of metabolic vulnerability in the brain.

Our researchers will look at a group of athletes from sports such as rugby, football, American football, Aussie rules, Gaelic football, cycling, gymnastics, equestrianism, alpine sports, motor racing, martial arts and ice hockey, recruited through University of Birmingham Sport (UBSport). The aim is to study the window of brain vulnerability following single and repetitive concussion, with a view to guiding return-to-play policy.

Method: As in phase one researchers will carry on recruiting from a number of professional clubs (mainly bit not exclusively from the Rugby Football Union premiership) participating in this study. Blood and saliva samples will be collected at the pitch-side by the club medics and then the athletes will attend our new ITM Imaging Centre for evaluation with computerised neuropsychometrics, medical evaluation and advanced neuroimaging. The samples will be used to functionalise, optimise and validate a point-of-care device being developed in collaboration with Swansea University and an industrial partner BIOVICI Diagnostics.

Lead researchers