Concussion is a major injury incurred in sport, but diagnosis is tricky for amateur sports clubs that don’t have quick access to medical professionals.
To combat this, a team of researchers, led by Valentina Di Pietro of the University of Birmingham, UK, have found a way of non-invasively diagnosing concussion using a specific chemical signature found in the saliva of concussed rugby players.
“Concussion can be difficult to diagnose, particularly in settings such as grassroots sports where evaluation by a specialist clinician is not possible. Consequently, some concussions may go undiagnosed,” says Di Pietro.
“There are also concerns regarding the long-term brain health of those exposed to repeated concussions.
“A non-invasive and accurate diagnostic test using saliva is a real game changer and may provide an invaluable tool to help clinicians diagnose concussions more consistently and accurately.”
Key research points:
- New concussion diagnoses uses saliva
- Saliva of concussed athletes contains unique RNA biomarkers
- The technique could be used alongside medical examination
In the paper, published in British Journal of Sports Medicine, they detail their assessment of the saliva of 1028 male rugby players during a game, after a game, and 36-48 hours post-game. The researchers aimed to see if there were specific markers that could indicate a player had suffered a concussion.
They confirmed concussion with critical medical assessments and found that the concussed players also had 14 specific small non-coding RNAs in their saliva that was not present in the saliva of other players.
“The ability to rapidly diagnose concussion using biomarkers in addition to existing tools solves a major unmet need in the sporting world, as well as in military and healthcare settings, particularly in injuries without significant visible symptoms,” says Antonio Beli, at the University of Birmingham.
The technique is currently under processing for a patent.
While the method is quick and lab-based, it is not a substitute for normal medical examination. Instead, it could provide a useful tool that works alongside clinical diagnoses. Further studies would be required to assess biomarkers in women, young athletes and community sports players.
“Concussion has a constellation of signs and symptoms which can differ between people, as well as the self-reported severity of symptoms, and symptom recovery which can resolve within minutes, all of which can influence a doctor’s medical decision,” says Alan Pearce, a neuroscientist from La Trobe.
“By having objective measures, it can improve the confidence of the medical judgement but also not have to rely on symptom reporting which is notoriously unreliable.
“The study is good because they compared a range of biomarkers not only with brain injury but also muscle injury.”
Deborah Devis is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Liberal Arts and Science (Honours) in biology and philosophy from the University of Sydney, and a PhD in plant molecular genetics from the University of Adelaide.
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