26 May 2023
An international study on concussion in sportswomen has been announced by the company that developed a concussion test for adult males based on research led by Dr Valentina Di Pietro (pictured) and Professor Tony Belli at the University of Birmingham.
Research suggests that female athletes suffer a higher rate of concussion, which may be accompanied by a wider range of more severe and prolonged symptoms compared to their male counterparts.
Emerging biotech company Marker Health was founded in 2016 and has already developed a CE-certified concussion test for adult males following the ground-breaking research from the University of Birmingham. With a research base at the University’s bio-incubator the BioHub Birmingham, the company is now continuing the work that was led by Dr Di Pietro and Professor Belli from the University’s Institute of Inflammation and Ageing.
Following successful data collection during last year’s delayed 2021 Women’s World Cup and the Farah Palmer Cup in New Zealand, the comprehensive research programme will involve data collection from elite and community level rugby players, to support the extension of Marker’s current test approval to all levels of the female game.
Testing and data collection is already underway with several partnerships including the Allianz Premier 15s and the recent TikTok Women’s Six Nations. More international partnerships are anticipated, making this the most comprehensive programme of female-focused research to date.
The research is based on the analysis of small non-coding RNA (sncRNA) biomarkers in the saliva from a quick, easy and non-invasive mouth swab. Following a concussive event, a cascade of chemical processes occurs in the brain, altering biomarker profiles. Marker will analyse these changes to provide doctors with an accurate biological tool to diagnose concussions. Without an objective test, concussion has been challenging to diagnose with doctors currently relying on a series of subjective tests to make their diagnoses.
Marker has been undertaking focused research amongst female athletes for several years, with the aim of developing a specific and objective biological tool to improve diagnosis and outcomes.
Dr Di Pietro said: “Concussion can be difficult to diagnose, particularly in settings such as grass roots sports where evaluation by a specialist clinician is not possible. Consequently, some concussions may go undiagnosed. A non-invasive and accurate diagnostic test using saliva is a real game changer and will provide an invaluable tool to help doctors diagnose concussions more consistently and accurately.”
David Cohen, chairman of Marker, said: “As seen in the huge crowd at the final game of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations, it is fortuitous that the phenomenal growth in Women’s rugby is occurring as we are extending our concussion diagnostic to female athletes”.
“It is critical to provide specific and accurate biological concussion diagnosis and safe return to play for women. The test can then be used to objectively support enhanced player welfare practices focussed on brain health across at all levels of female sport. The relationship with the University of Birmingham and our international collaborations with the RFU, NZR and TikTok Women’s Six Nations is rapidly moving us closer to providing female players with an accurate and objective concussion test.”
Dr Veemal Bhowruth from University of Birmingham Enterprise, said: “With the higher rate of concussion with women athletes, and the growth in the women’s game, this study is both timely and much needed, to help ensure the welfare of athletes at all levels.”
Photo credit: Marker Diagnostics