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Researchers help start something BIG in London

Robarts Scientists Arthur Brown, PhD, and Greg Dekaban, PhD, are thrilled to see that what started out as a phone call to the head of athletics at Western University has quickly snowballed into a city-wide, cross-disciplinary effort to understand concussions from every possible angle.

The Brain Injury Group (BIG) London includes more than two dozen professionals from across the city including physicians, scientists, educators and public health professionals interested in studying everything from the biomechanics of why concussions occur to how to prevent them.

BIG recently received funding from the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry supported by the Schulich Research Grant Competition that will allow them to continue and expand what has become a very important research collaboration in the city and beyond.

“This is a significant chunk of money that will allow us to do a multi-year set of studies,” said Dekaban.

When Brown and Dekaban first shifted their focus from studying spinal cord injury to studying concussions, they did so because of the large number of people who are affected, and because of the lack of objective evidence to-date to indicate when a concussion has occurred and when it has resolved itself.

In order to get a clear picture of the impacts of concussion, they wanted to find a group of people who had a high probability of sustaining head injuries. By doing so they could establish a baseline before they were injured and then be able to monitor the effects of the injury over a period of time.

“That’s when I picked up the phone and called Therese Quigley, who wasn’t a scientist or a physician; she was the Director of Sports and Recreation Services at Western,” said Brown. That phone call eventually led Dekaban and Brown to begin studying the women’s rugby team and was the impetus for the formation of a cross-disciplinary group.

“As our interests grew and our questions became more sophisticated, the group continued to expand,” Brown said. They quickly brought on imaging scientists like Rob Bartha, PhD, and Ravi Menon, PhD, to track the physical effects of the injury on the brain.

Biomechanical scientists like Tom Jenkyn began studying what actually causes the brain to become injured and what makes some people more susceptible to concussions than others. Paediatric specialist Dr. Doug Fraser brought expertise on the effects of brain injury in children. Soon kinesiologists, clinicians, sports physicians, and even public health educators were brought into the group.

Now, the group is well established in London and meets at least once a month to share data, come up with research questions, and collaborate on the approaches to answering those questions.

“When trying to understand whether someone has a concussion or not, there isn’t one biomarker that will diagnose a concussion,” said Dekaban. “So looking at it from different angles and with different approaches is critical.”

The new funding from the Dean’s Grant will allow the group to continue its work with the women’s rugby team for another two years, and to continue to establish itself as a leader in multidisciplinary concussion research.