Clearing Confusion from Concussion. PhD in Sport and Health Sciences (University of Exeter)

Vacancy Reference Number
Closing Date
25 Nov 2019
£15,009 Stipend matching UK Research Council National Minimum (£15,009 p.a. for 2019/20, updated each year) plus UK/EU tuition fees
St Luke’s Campus, Heavitree Road, Exeter EX1 2LU

Lead Supervisor:

Dr Genevieve Williams Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter

Additional Supervisors:

Prof Len Nokes Physical Sciences and Engineering, Cardiff University

Prof Keith Stokes Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Bath

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 where 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 pitchside.   

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 matchday doctor in the pitch-side diagnosis of concussion.  

For more information and to apply, please click here.