Western University researchers use dual brain scans to track long-term concussion toll

Western University researchers are inching closer to making an invisible injury visible, using two kinds of brain scans to track the physical changes concussions cause even after the symptoms are long gone.

Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry professor Ravi Menon studied brain scans from female rugby players to track the physical changes in the brain post-concussion. (Jennifer Bieman/The London Free Press)

Western University researchers are inching closer to making an invisible injury visible, using two kinds of brain scans to track the physical changes concussions cause even after the symptoms are long gone.

In a new joint study, researchers at Western University and Radboud University’s Donders Institute in the Netherlands found physical markers of concussion in the brain at different stages post-injury.

“That gave us new insights into how concussion works both acutely as well as at a six-month time point or even a multi-year time point,” said Ravi Menon, senior author of the study and a professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry.

For five years, researchers followed 52 female athletes from Western’s varsity rugby team before, during and after the season. The group included 21 who had suffered a concussion. The study compared the rugby players to a control group of varsity female swimmers and rowers, groups with a low risk of concussive impact from their sport.

Each study participant was put through two different types of resting MRI brain scans, one that examines the structure or wiring between different areas of the brain and another that looks at the functional aspects of the brain, the information that’s going along those wires.

In other concussion studies, researchers have used the two different types of scans on a single patient, then looked at each one separately, Menon said. By taking both brain scan varieties and interpreting them together, Menon and his team were able to identify unique concussion signatures in the brain.

Researchers discovered three unique markers in the brain: one that detects acute brain changes after an athlete has suffered a concussion, another that identifies lingering brain changes six months post-concussion and one that exposes a history of concussions.

Concussions are diagnosed by a doctor using a lengthy set of criteria based on a patient’s reported or observed symptoms.

Menon and his team are hoping their findings will lead to the development of a quantifiable diagnostic measure for concussion. Other Western research has found evidence of metabolic changes that could make a blood test for concussion possible.

“This paper suggests that there are some actual physical things in the brain that we can measure that can tell us something about whether the person has an acute concussion, whether there is still damage or changes many months out as well as we can see signatures that tell us something about their concussion history,” Menon said.

“Even if the symptoms have returned to normal, there are changes in the brain that persist long after that.”

The study appears in the online-only scientific journal NeuroImage: Clinical.

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@SchulichMedDent

Using a technique that combines multiple MRI imaging measures, @WesternU researchers uncovered a more sensitive and complete picture of injury. In collaboration with @DondersInst, the study looked at the brains of female rugby players. https://mediarelations.uwo.ca/2018/12/19/mri-technique-shows-unique-signatures-concussion-rugby-players/ 

MRI technique shows unique signatures of concussion in rugby players – Media Relations

Using MRI to study the brains of young female athletes has helped researchers develop an objective way to monitor a concussion injury. By using a technique that combines both structural…

mediarelations.uwo.ca