Sports-related concussion is a rapidly growing public health concern in Australia and overseas. The detection and management of concussion is incredibly important, as mismanagement can lead to persistent or long-term problems. Despite the recent spotlight on the short- and long-term effects of concussion, we still do not have any device that medical practitioners can use to diagnose a concussion in an individual. Having such a device could hugely improve the short-term management of concussion, and could help to predict the long-term outcomes in an individual. The goal of this project is to determine if we can detect a concussion in an individual’s brain using specialised brain imaging tools
Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury resulting from a biomechanical force to the head. This injury causes some neurological impairment, and a range of variable, and often subtle symptoms. On a standard brain scan (MRI), there are no visible abnormalities that can be detected after a concussion. As such, the signs and symptoms of a concussion have long been thought to be the result of a disturbance in brain function, rather than any visible change to the brain.
Recently, a specialised type of brain imaging tool, known as diffusion MRI, has been able to detect subtle changes in the brain’s white matter (the brain’s connections or ‘wires’) following a concussion.
Our research group at the Florey has developed world-leading diffusion MRI technologies (www.mrtrix.org), which are able to detect very specific changes to the brain’s wiring. We have applied these techniques to various neurological conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease1,5,
epilepsy11,12, motor-neuron disease13, and more recently, concussion14. This tool, if it is able to detect the signs of concussion in an individual, could be a highly valuable biomarker in clinical practice.
The aim of our project is to translate these advanced imaging technologies to clinical practice in concussion. The project has two parts:
- We will acquire advanced brain scans in 40 healthy volunteers. These ‘healthy’ brains will serve as an important reference data set that is needed to interpret the abnormalities that arise following brain injury
- We will analyse diffusion MRI data from professional athletes from the Australian Football League (AFL) who suffer from a concussion. These athletes are enrolled through an AFLfunded research program. A summary report of white-matter changes will be generated for each person. Finally, we will test whether this provides clinically useful information that can be reported to their treating doctors.