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Aussie scientists start groundbreaking research on concussion in sport



Researchers at the University of Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) have begun to work with athletes to uncover the medical mysteries that surround concussion in elite sport, it was announced Tuesday.

The groundbreaking study is the first of its kind and will examine pre- and post-concussion in the same individuals.

"This will allow us to detect more subtle changes than other studies that have compared concussion subjects with normal healthy subjects," senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, Dr. Fatimah Nasrallah, told Xinhua.

The study will use MRI imaging combined with blood and saliva testing over regular intervals.

Scientists will then measure these biomarkers alongside physiological and cognitive assessments.

"Our aim is to find out what's happening at the level of the brain and then try to correlate that with the changes that are happening with the markers in the saliva and the blood," Nasrallah said.

"We will also be examining their sleeping patterns, because sleep is known to be affected after concussion, which should give us a more accurate assessment of how long the effects of a concussion last."

The issue has been a very hot button topic in Australia over recent years, as a number of medical professionals have criticized the nation's sporting codes, such as those of Rugby, Boxing and AFL, for not doing enough to protect players from long-term head injuries.

QBI director Prof. Pankaj Sah said, "We're not trying to change sport; we're trying to change outcomes."

"Understanding more about concussion and recognizing the appropriate time-frame to be excluded from sport to prevent further injury to the brain will help keep the community involved in sport and protect player well-being."

Adding that the long-term side effects seen from repeated concussion seen in sport can include dementia at a much earlier age.

In 2016, QBI launched a campaign tagged #nobrainnogame to tackle the issue and raise awareness of the dangers of head injuries in sport.

Due to its success, Australia's major sporting codes adopted new procedures when dealing with players who had experienced head trauma.

The campaign received backing by a number of high-profile athletes, including AFL Brisbane Lions defender Justin Clarke, who was forced to retire at 22, after experiencing a severe, "career-ending" concussion.

Nasrallah believes that because there has not been a great deal of studies conducted on concussion in sport prior to recently, players with mild concussion didn't seem to take it "too seriously".

"If you get a head knock, a lot of people in sports ignore it and think it will go away in time, I think now sporting clubs and members are becoming more aware of the issue," Nasrallah said.

But even with the new precautions that codes have brought in to examine whether a player should continue after a head injury, Nasrallah warns, "while they think they may be implementing sufficient guidelines in regard to their players safety, I don't think we have the proper tests that can access whether you have had damage from a concussion or not".

Levi J. Parsons / Xinhua / PNA  

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