LONDON — Spitting into a hand-held device could soon be a way of diagnosing concussions in sports.
For the upcoming season in English rugby, players in the top two leagues will provide saliva samples as part of major study into concussions.
The study is being led by the University of Birmingham, whose researchers say they have identified molecules that can be found in saliva and act as biomarkers to indicate whether the brain has been injured.
Rugby players will give a baseline saliva sample before the season starts and provide another sample beside the field of play if they suffer a confirmed or suspected concussion during a match. The two samples will be tested and compared in a laboratory.
England’s Rugby Football Union, which is commissioning the trial, said it is the “biggest of its kind to take place in the history of UK sport” and could be used to guide return-to-play decisions. There is the potential for it to be used across all sports and for medics in the military.
The sideline saliva test could be undertaken on a hand-held device if the research is validated, the RFU said. The device is under development.
“There is currently no reliable or proven biomarker or objective test for the diagnosis of concussion,” said Dr. Simon Kemp, chief medical officer at the RFU, “and this lack of objectivity is the biggest challenge facing medical professionals in dealing with this type of injury.
“While very much an exploratory piece of research, this is a project that has the potential to make a very significant impact on the diagnosis and management of players following concussion.”
The trial will run alongside the 10-minute Head Injury Assessment protocol — established by World Rugby — that is currently in operation. This procedure has been criticized for being too subjective because it is reliant on the interpretation of a team doctor.