Concussion in football has long been a serious risk for players. Many find themselves suffering from conditions like early onset dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) due to a concussion or concussions and subsequent brain injuries they experienced while playing their sport.
Recently, the English Football Association (EFA) along with the English Football League (EFL) and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) announced a joint action plan to protect current players from concussions and sub-concussive impacts. The purpose of the study is to understand why professional football players have a higher incidence of neurogenerative diseases when compared to the general population, and to discover how to prevent this.
This new study follows the March publication of a study of concussion in football. The Study of Concussion in Rugby Union through MicroRNAs (SCRUM) found that saliva contains DNA biomarkers that have a 94 percent success rate of detecting a concussion suffered by elite male rugby players.
The SCRUM study was carried out by the University of Birmingham and involved saliva samples taken from 156 Premiership and Championship players who had head injury assessments (HIA) during the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons. The University collaborated with the Rugby Football Union (RFU), Premier Rugby (PR), and a company that specializes in biomarkers, Marker Diagnostics.
The recently announced action plan for an academic study is designed to validate the SCRUM results. Players will provide baseline saliva swabs. Then, if they have a concussive injury, they will provide saliva swabs immediately after the injury, after the game is over, and again 36-48 hours postgame. These swabs will be compared to swabs taken from an uninjured player, and another player who suffered a musculoskeletal injury in the same match or training session.
Professor Antonio Belli, the SCRUM chief investigator, said that concussion biomarkers are present in saliva within minutes after an injury. He explained that the benefit of the saliva test is that it is “non-invasive, quite easy to get, objective and accurate at the same time.”
Significance of the Study
In 2019, a FIELD study conducted by researchers at the University of Glasgow concluded that footballers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than those of the same age who are in the general population. This result led to an increased concern about the management of concussion in football and the sub-concussive impact of repeated headings that occur while a player is playing the game.
The new study of concussion in football will also be conducted by the University of Glasgow. It is referred to as BrainHOPE. In addition to its focus on early diagnosis and intervention, the study will also focus on understanding the deterioration of cognitive functioning in former players. The idea is to learn how early diagnosis and intervention could help prevent the development of dementia or at least reduce the speed of developing it for those players who suffered a concussive injury while playing the game.
The Football Association (FA) is also partnering with the RFU and Premiership Ruby (PR) so that, in 2022, the Advanced BRAIN Health Clinic will include former footballers. This will give former players access to specialist clinical services so their brain health can be proactively managed following their retirement.
Those responsible for the action plan are consulting with current and former players as well as their families. The feedback received will help shape the final parameters of the study and the updated version will be published before the start of the next season.