In a new study of adolescent and adult athletes, researchers published this month in the Journal of Neurotrauma they were able to detect damage to the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which protects the brain from pathogens and toxins, caused by mild TBI. The researchers studied high-risk populations, specifically professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters and adolescent rugby players, to investigate whether the integrity of the blood-brain barrier (BBB) is altered and to develop a technique to better diagnose mild brain trauma. In this study, MMA fighters were examined pre-fight for a baseline and again within 120 hours following competitive fight. The rugby players were examined pre-season and again post-season or post-match in a subset of cases. Both groups were evaluated using advanced MRI protocol, analysis of BBB biomarkers in the blood, and a mouthguard developed at Stanford with sensors that track speed, acceleration and force at nearly 10,000 measurements per second.
Ten out of 19 adolescent rugby players showed signs of a leaky blood-brain barrier by the end of the season. Eight rugby players were scanned post-match and two had barrier disruptions. The injuries detected were lower than the current threshold for mild head trauma. The researchers were also able to correlate the level of blood-brain barrier damage seen on an MRI with measurements from the mouthguard sensors.