Aston University: Aston University psychologists to take part in major study to improve concussion prognosis

Researchers from the Aston Institute of Heath and Neurodevelopment, in the College of Health and Life Sciences at Aston University, are taking part in a major multiple partner study to identify new ways to accurately predict whether patients will develop long-term complications as a consequence of concussion.

Experts from the University of Birmingham and the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre, in collaboration with Defence Medical Services, are to lead the UK consortium carrying out the study. With year one funded by the Ministry of Defence (£2m) and projected to run over eight years, the multi-faceted study will include a trial involving 400 civilians and 400 military personnel aged over 18 with a new diagnosis of concussion (also known as a mild traumatic brain injury or mTBI) which has resulted in them needing hospital treatment or rehabilitation.

At specific time intervals over two years, the participants will take part in nine different areas of research using a variety of medical techniques and assessments to establish if these can be used routinely by medics as ‘biomarkers’ to indicate prognosis and long term impact of concussion. Medical techniques and assessments being trialled include brain imaging and function, analysis of blood and saliva samples, and headache measures, as well as mental health, vision, balance, and cognitive performance.

mTBI is common and has been declared a major global public health problem, with 1.4 million hospital visits due to head injury annually in England and Wales – 85% of which are classified as mTBI. It is also estimated that up to 9.5% of UK military personnel with a combat role are diagnosed with mTBI annually.

The research will involve 20 University of Birmingham experts working across disciplines, including neurology, psychology, sports medicine, mathematics and academics within the University’s Centre for Human Brain Health, and will be coordinated by Birmingham Clinical Trials Unit. It will also be driven by experts at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre Stanford Hall; Imperial College London; University of Westminster; University of Nottingham; Royal Centre for Defence Medicine; and University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire.

Dr Caroline Witton, reader in psychology and scientific lead for magnetoencephalography (MEG) at the Aston Institute for Health and Neurodevelopment (IHN), Aston University said: “I am very excited to be part of this landmark study of traumatic brain injury. At IHN we are focussed on improving lives through brain imaging and this work has the potential to help the thousands of people each year who suffer long term disability following a concussion.”

Dr Jan Novak, lecturer in psychology at Aston University and MRI lead of the mTBI-Predict project said: “It is outstanding that this prestigious work is being conducted at Aston University’s Institute of Health and Neurodevelopment. We will provide our expertise in brain imaging, prediction of outcomes in patient groups, and credentials in mTBI research to enrich the study. It is hoped that it will build upon existing collaborations with other local institutions and government bodies such as the Ministry of Defence.”

Alex Sinclair, professor of Neurology at the University of Birmingham and chief investigator of the mTBI-Predict project explained: “Although classified as mild, and many recover, the consequences of concussion can be profound with many patients suffering long-term disability due to persistent headaches, fatigue, imbalance, memory disturbance, and poor mental health including post-traumatic stress disorder, while it can have a significant impact on the economy through loss of working hours and demand on the health system. Identifying those patients most at risk of these disabling consequences is not currently possible. There is therefore a pressing need to develop accurate, reproducible biomarkers of mTBI that are practical for use in a clinical setting and can predict long-term complications.

“Our programme of research will deliver a step change in the care of patients with mTBI, enabling a personalised medicine approach to target early intervention for those most in need but also identifying those with a good prognosis who can return rapidly to activities of daily living.”

Co-Chief Investigator, Air Vice-Marshall Rich Withnall QHS Director of Defence Healthcare, UK Ministry of Defence said:
“I am delighted that the Defence Medical Services, including the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Stanford Hall, will be working hand-in-glove with class-leading civilian colleagues and the National Rehabilitation Centre Programme. I fully support this ground-breaking research which I am confident will lead to significant clinical innovation to benefit military and civilian patients and have a translational positive impact for sporting activities from grass-roots to elite levels.”

Chief Executive of Headway, Peter McCabe said: “We know that even a seemingly minor head injury can have a major impact on a person’s life – and often the lives of those closest to them. This is particularly the case if the brain injury goes undiagnosed or its effects are mistaken for other conditions. The frustration of not having an accurate diagnosis or receiving the right support can be compounded by the lack of a clear recovery pathway or timeline. We therefore welcome this study in the hope that it can advance our understanding of concussion and mTBI.”

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