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The initial phase of the collaboration will come to a conclusion following the Currie Cup final in Bloemfontein, where the Airlink Pumas will be defending their title against the Toyota Cheetahs.

The weekend’s Currie Cup Final will complete the first phase of a unique concussion collaboration undertaken by South African Rugby and concussion diagnostic experts, Marker Diagnostics (Marker), which was founded in 2016 following ground-breaking concussion research at the University of Birmingham.

The relationship between Marker and South African Rugby has been developed as part of World Rugby’s international player welfare campaign aimed at supporting the identification and treatment of concussion in rugby and has run throughout the 2022/23 competition.

The Birmingham research underpins Marker’s CE-certified concussion test which is based on the analysis of small non-coding RNA (sncRNA) biomarkers in the saliva. Marker analyses changes in sncRNA to provide an objective and biological assessment following a suspected concussion event.

It’s really great to see SA Rugby, and indeed World Rugby, working with Marker on this important trial. These tests, which are based on University of Birmingham research, could make a huge difference to rapidly spotting and treating concussion in rugby.

David Coleman, CEO of University of Birmingham Enterprise

Through the collaboration, Marker has provided all teams with access to its CE certified saliva concussion diagnostic test. This includes all players having had baseline saliva testing during pre-season, with additional saliva swabs then taken and assessed for changes in concussion biomarker profiles when a concussive incident was suspected during the season as part of the Head Impact Assessment (HIA) process. Additionally, Marker has also received salivary swabs from all players fitted with an instrumented mouthguard at the end of each game throughout the season.

The data and insight collected is being used by World Rugby, SA Rugby and Marker to evaluate and support appropriate adoption and further research into the continued development of salivary concussion testing for appropriate head injury diagnosis, assessment, and safe graduated return to play protocols.

The initial phase of this initiative between Marker, World Rugby and SA Rugby, which features as part of World Rugby’s evidence based, innovative and technology-driven approach to player brain welfare, will come to a conclusion following the Currie Cup final in Bloemfontein, where the Airlink Pumas will be defending their title against the Toyota Cheetahs.

Additional refinements will continue to be undertaken in the other collaborations next season and beyond.

In addition to the Currie Cup, Marker is also working with several partners across men’s and women’s rugby, including Premiership and Allianz Premier 15s teams in England, the Vodacom United Rugby Championship, the recent TikTok Women’s Six Nations, as well as successful data collection during last year’s delayed 2021 Women’s World Cup in New Zealand.

David Cohen, Chairman of Marker, said: “Across all ages and levels of the game, concussion has been - and remains - challenging to diagnose for a number of reasons without the objective test we are currently deploying. In addition to accurate diagnosis of concussion, challenges in assessment continue throughout the return to play process.

“Collaborations such as the ones we have enjoyed with South African Rugby and the English RFU will provide accurate data and insight for medical teams, enabling them to support players with the individualised care they need to make a full brain recovery.”

Clint Readhead, SA Rugby’s Senior Medical Manager, said: “We are delighted to be collaborating with Marker, an innovative leader in the field of biological concussion diagnosis, as we continue to improve safety and brain welfare for the benefit of players at all levels of the game in South Africa.”

“The health and wellbeing of our players in the Currie Cup and throughout our community is of utmost importance and we will continue to do all we can to contribute to better understand and manage this complex injury and significant issue.”