Micro chip may be answer to knocks to head

KNOCKOUT: Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith was concussed while tackling a Bulls player in Pretoria last season.
KNOCKOUT: Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith was concussed while tackling a Bulls player in Pretoria last season.

Blues co-owner Murray Bolton is set to bankroll breakthrough concussion technology that could see professional rugby players fitted with a micro sensor chip to measure the immediate impact of head knocks.

The Australian and Wales Rugby Unions have shown interest in the product which has the potential to address the growing concern worldwide within rugby over head concussions and their long-term impact on players.

Fairfax Media understands Bolton, who owns 40 per cent of the Blues after investing $4 million, will this week sign a deal to finance the final stages of a prototype designed by an Auckland-based company.

After three years of development and consultation with the likes of former All Blacks locks Ali Williams and Ross Filipo, the CSX company believes it may have found the silver bullet to monitor, manage and dramatically reduce potentially fatal concussions. The algorithm software is designed to instantly enable professional rugby and league teams to determine whether a player has suffered a serious head knock.

"We went to Murray to enable us to do it properly and not bootstrap it. We're talking a few hundred thousand dollars," CSX chief executive Ed Lodge, a former sports therapist with rugby teams in Wellington and Fiji, said.

"We want to tackle the world at once with concussion and rugby. Concussion is a big problem and it's not going to go away, but maybe we can manage it better. We're targeting to have it all done in three months. We'll miss Super Rugby and try and aim for the NPC."

As well as interest in the unique technology from the Australian and Welsh Rugby Unions, the NZRU's medical director Ian Murphy also confirmed discussions with CSX.

"We have had an initial conversation about work they have underway looking into concussion and offered our support to help with research to assess the scientific merit of the device being developed," Murphy said.

The chip is smaller than a $2 coin in diameter and six millimetres thick. It is fitted behind a player's ear and held in place by adhesive material and sweat resistant glue similar to what is used on strapping tape.

Related technology is used in players' helmets in the NFL in America, where a $US765 million ($929m) settlement over concussion-related brain injuries is still yet to be resolved.

"We've got the size sorted. It fits behind the ear," Lodge said. "You don't really notice it's there. There's nothing like it in rugby or league because we don't use helmets. We don't have the luxury of putting big pieces of technology inside helmets."

Before players wear the chip they undergo testing to record and store their baseline results. The chip then measures the severity of head knocks during a match and sends the data to a cloud-based iPad application which will be launched this week.

Real time results can be compared to initial testing, allowing on-the-spot prevention as well as the creation of long-term athlete profiles which can be tracked at all levels of the game, from NPC to test level with the All Blacks.

"Having the ability to check in real time what their baseline score was and see the difference gives us a clear picture of whether there's significant change in their cognitive function," Lodge said.

"It also manages them through the six return-to-play stages.

"The sensor and app aren't going to diagnose concussion. It still comes down to clinical decision-making from the medical team, but they will now have all the information in-front of them very quickly."

Sunday Star Times