Uni to examine Knights brains

THE University of Newcastle and the Knights will proceed with a concussion research project at an appropriate time, the university and the NRL confirmed yesterday.

Current affairs television program Four Corners reported on Monday that plans to test current and former Knights players had been deferred, even though funding for the university study was available.

The Four Corners report titled Hard Knocks investigated the incidence of concussion in rugby league, union and Australian football players, at professional and junior levels, and detailed research being conducted around the world aimed at determining the effects of repeated concussions on a footballer’s brain.

In the United States, researchers studying American footballers have investigated links between repeated concussions and a type of dementia known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

The University of Newcastle has had funding approved by the NSW Sporting Injuries Committee to conduct a brain trauma study involving Knights players.

Harvard Medical School Professor Carolyn Mountford has been enlisted to establish a research centre in Newcastle but is still in the process of setting this up, staff are still being trained in the US, and the university does not want to interrupt the Knights in-season.

Discussions between the university and the Knights about this project began before Nathan Tinkler and the Hunter Sports Group took over the ownership of the club last year, and negotiations have continued in good faith since then.

‘‘From our point of view, the Knights have been absolutely appropriate and highly supportive of our interest in this research, and are adopting a very sensible and appropriate position around player welfare and the need to actually do this work,’’ Conjoint Professor Chris Levi, from the university’s School of Medicine and Public Health, said yesterday.

Professor Mike Calford, the university’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), said the project was still ‘‘at a very early stage’’.

‘‘We sent one of our PhD students, Dr Andrew Gardner, to Boston to be trained up on the techniques and we have recruited a new professor, Carolyn Mountford, who is establishing a new centre for magnetic resonance imaging and health, and that facility is not yet in place,’’ he said.

‘‘Over the last 12 to 15 years, we have been involved in a lot of studies with the Knights around elite athletes – not specifically on this aspect – and they’ve been incredibly co-operative.

‘‘We have an ongoing relationship with our sports physiologists and our exercise nutrition with the Knights, so we have had a lot of research and consultancy with them over that period.’’

NRL media and communications director John Brady said rugby league had been proactive in adapting rules to ‘‘minimise concussion and manage concussion in line with the latest research around the world’’.

‘‘While the Four Corners program raised a serious issue, the fact is that rugby league certainly deserves credit for the rules that have been brought into place,’’ Brady said.

‘‘These relate to changes made to the shoulder charge rule in recent years, in that attacking the head with the shoulder is considered dangerous contact, and putting procedures in place in relation to treating concussion and forcing players out of the game if they are concussed.

‘‘We are certainly monitoring research around the world and we made our guidelines in relation to the latest international protocols around the treatment of concussion.

‘‘The Knights are looking at a survey, and that’s up to them and the University of Newcastle to determine when that commences.’’

The Knights said in a statement: ‘‘This study is an issue of confidentiality for the university and therefore appropriate for them to respond, which they have, confirming it is currently not relevant to involve the Knights. For this reason, the club has no further comment.’’

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