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Clearing Confusion from Concussion. PhD in Sport and Health Sciences (GW4 BioMed MRC DTP)

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Monday, November 25, 2019
  • Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Supervisory team:
Dr Genevieve Williams, Department of Sport and Health Sciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter
Prof Len Nokes, Cardiff University
Prof Keith Stokes, University of Bath

Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury that temporarily affects brain functioning, and is a major concern in sport. However, the subtle symptoms, such as slow thinking and reaction time, are currently hard to detect without lengthy clinical examinations. This PhD will validate a novel movement protocol to quickly and objectively identify concussions, combining leading clinical diagnosis tools, cutting-edge neuroscience, and technology.

Concussion is a traumatic brain injury that temporarily affects brain functioning. In severe cases involving loss of consciousness, concussion is easy to recognise. However, 90% of sports related concussions occur without loss of consciousness, and with subtler sensory symptoms such as slow thinking and reaction time. These mild cases are non-trivial due to the dangers of impaired coordination, vision and mood impacting health, the ability to play safely, or even drive a car. The subjective nature of current pitch-side diagnosis protocols has resulted in high profile incidents were the high stakes decision of the medical staff, to allow players to continue playing, has been criticised for compromising player welfare. There is, however, no quantitative diagnostic tool for mild concussion that can be used in a competitive sports setting, making the decision of the medical staff subjective and difficult. Therefore, this research will validate a quick, quantitative diagnostic tool for concussion that can be used at pitch side.

This research will further develop and validate a quick, quantitative diagnostic tool for concussion that can be used during sporting competition. The tool is a Precision Finger Gripping (PFG) device, which requires a player to squeeze their thumb and forefinger together on a small box, to match different targets displayed on a screen. While simple, this test combines leading clinical diagnosis tools, cutting-edge neuroscience, and technology in a practical and easy to use and objective diagnostic tool for mild concussions.

This interdisciplinary project will provide a rich experience, moving through the medical etiology, laboratory tests, technological aspects of developing instrumented devices and computer interfaces, and field use of this tool in a sporting environment to further develop, evaluate and validate the procedure. The project is led by an emerging academic, with the support of world leading Professors in their field.

The project is feasible, yet challenging with the following phases:
1) Examine the perceptual consequences of blows to the head in a boxing environment, compared to a non-contact condition. Initial field testing.
2) Use this information to refine the PFG testing protocol and develop the final prototype. Mathematics and engineering.
3) Collect baseline data from professional football and rugby players. In the incidence of suspected concussion during play, data will be recollected with the PFG device, then later in line with clinical evaluations via the full SCAT5 and CogSport batteries performed at the time of occurrence, within 3 hours, 1 day, 1 week, and every week until 10 weeks post-incident in addition to the SCAT5 protocol.
4) Evaluate the diagnostic power of the PFG protocol to distinguish baseline data from states of concussion, and evaluate its effectiveness as a pitch-side diagnosis tool.

This work will result in high impact basic and translational science publications. Work will be presented at the Society for Neuroscience, the biggest and most prestigious neuroscience conference in the world, as well as the more applied International Conference on Concussion in Sport.

The high impact main expected outcome is the validation of the PGF test as a diagnostic tool that can be used to reliably and objectively support a match day doctor in pitch-side diagnosis of concussion.

To apply for this project, please complete the application form at by 5pm Friday 25 November 2019.

Funding Notes

This studentship is funded through GW4 BioMed MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. It consists of full UK/EU tuition fees, as well as a Doctoral Stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum (£15,009 for 2019/20, updated each year) for 3.5 years.

For further information relating to the funding please see: View Website

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