“Science of Concussion” seminar 

Presented by the Neurological Foundation held at Auckland University Medical School on 12th October, this included presentations from Dr Helen Murray, and Dr Josh McGeown.


Dr Helen Murray talked about her research into the biological mechanisms that link repetitive brain injury and neurodegeneration, specifically CTE (chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s Disease. CTE is related to the number and force of impacts and is currently only able to be diagnosed on autopsy. It is known that with CTE a protein present in the brain called TAU accumulates in parts of the brain tissue forming bundles. Tau bundles also form in Alzheimer’s disease but in different areas of the brain tissue to those caused by CTE.

Dr Murray is trying to identify biomarkers that are present for each of these conditions so that hopefully in the future the onset of each of these neurodegenerative conditions (CTE and Alzheimer’s) can be detected by a blood test. Once biomarkers have been identified then further research can be carried out in an effort to discover a treatment to delay or prevent development of these conditions.

Dr Josh McGeown is studying “sub clinical” head impacts, (head knocks that are not forceful enough to cause concussion symptoms) amongst schoolboy rugby players playing at 1XV and 2XV level. These players wear special mouthguards that are equipped with sensors to record all head impacts, and are worn during all training sessions and games throughout the rugby season.

MRI scans are completed for each player pre-season, at the middle of the season and again at the end of the season to look at any changes that occur in the brain, these scans are then compared with the impact data collected from the mouthguards to determine if any changes on MRI can be attributed to head impacts. The MRI scans are completed using a state of the art GE-3 Tesla MRI scanner (not readily available in all hospitals).

So far this study has shown that even with sub-clinical head impacts changes can be seen on the MRI Scans.

Dr McGeown and his colleagues are hoping to secure funding to expand their research to include scans during the “off season” so that they can observe how long it takes for the MRI scans to return to the baseline pre-season scan. They can then use this information to advise rugby coaches and the rugby union on how long the off season should be in order to allow players brains time to recover from these impacts.