A recently published study conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham has identified biomarkers in the saliva of Rugby players that accurately predict concussion.
Concussion is a common injury in contact sport such as rugby, and while the majority of players make a full recovery and can return to sport within a few weeks, concussion is often misdiagnosed or missed.
The study, part of the Repetitive Concussion in Sport (ReCos) research program, was conducted on more than 1,000 rugby players at the top two tiers of the sport across two rugby seasons to examine whether small, noncoding RNAs (sncRNAs) present in the saliva could be used as a diagnostic signature for sport-related concussion.
Saliva samples were taken from players before the start of the season, along with samples taken from 156 players as part of head injury assessments: During matches, immediately afterwards, and between 36 and 48 hours later. The samples were compared with those of players who did not suffer head injuries and players that suffered muscle or joint injuries but were not assessed for head injuries.
From the first season samples the researchers identified 14 salivary sncRNAs which gave a highly accurate diagnosis (96%) of concussion, with the panel of sncRNAs allowing differentiation between concussion and suspected traumatic brain injury when concussion was later ruled out. In the second season, the presence of the biomarkers could be used to predict whether players would be diagnosed with concussion with 94% accuracy.
The advantage of the test is it is simple to perform, noninvasive, and samples of saliva are easy to collect. The test would not only be of great benefit to athletes but could also be used in hospitals and other settings. The researchers do not suggest that this method of diagnosis outperforms the gold standard clinical head injury assessments, but a diagnostic test for the panel of sncRNAs could be of great value in lower levels of contact sports where the majority of concussions occur. The sncRNAs can be detected rapidly following a traumatic brain injury so these biomarkers would be suitable for use in a pitch-side test.
Prompt diagnosis is important to ensure that individuals get the right treatment. A rapid diagnosis could shorten the recovery time as well as prevent further injuries from occurring.
“This ground-breaking validation of the biomarker panel shows that we can use the simple swab collection of saliva to accurately and specifically diagnose concussion,” said Tinus Maree, CEO of Marker Diagnostics. Marker Diagnostics is working with the University of Birmingham to validate the results of several other studies of the sncRNAs for detecting sport-related concussion. “It is a biological measure of mild traumatic brain injury and will contribute to a new global standard of care for the injury and a meaningful reduction of the cost and health burden associated with concussion.”
You can read more about the study in the paper – Unique diagnostic signatures of concussion in the saliva of male athletes: the Study of Concussion in Rugby Union through MicroRNAs (SCRUM) – which was recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-103274