Rugby players tackling
The URC teams conducted small-scale trials during the 2022/23 season, and have now enrolled in the research for the 2023/24 season.

The United Rugby Championship kicks off this Saturday, and the new season will see all 16 teams enrolled in a data collection process with Marker Diagnostics, which was founded in 2016 following pioneering concussion research at the University of Birmingham.

The Birmingham research underpins Marker’s patented and CE marked salivary diagnostic concussion test, which is the only approved biological diagnostic for mild traumatic brain injury in adult male athletes. Through the analysis of non-coding RNA biomarkers in saliva, the test may become an important component in accurately identifying concussions and monitoring safe return to play.

Having already conducted small-scale trials with Marker during the 2022/23 season, the URC teams have enrolled in this research for the 2023/24 season. Marker’s saliva testing for players who enter the Head Injury Assessment protocols will provide valuable data to be used to optimise and support the current processes for both the diagnosis of concussion in players and to guide their safe return to play.

Marker will collect baseline saliva samples from URC players at the start of the season. Suspected and confirmed concussion incident samples are then collected as part of the mandatory HIA evaluation process, meaning swabs are taken on pitchside assessment during HIA 1, after the game (HIA 2), between 36-48 hours after the game (HIA 3) and when the player is due to return to play (HIA 4). The outcome of the collaboration will provide additional research data to further expand the test and its prognostic application in guiding the safe return to play after concussion within the HIA process.

Dr Mike Dunlop, United Rugby Championship, Medical Advisor and Chair of the URC Medical Sub Committee, said: “As a league, the URC’s medical committee are always examining potential trials and initiatives that can help accelerate the research involving player safety or applications that can support diagnosis or recovery. I would specifically like to thank Marker and the Union CMO’s for their time in setting up this international study. We as league are glad to be able to add to Marker’s previous well-regarded research in this area from a number of other Leagues, Unions and Competitions.

“Marker’s saliva testing approach is quite simple in its execution and by extending this initiative across all teams during the season it will deliver a very valuable data set for researchers and the URC to consider.”

David Cohen, Chairman of Marker, said: “From the early days of our research to enhance brain welfare and safety through the development of a specific and selective biological concussion diagnostic, we have been fortunate to enjoy the visionary support of thought leaders in the game of rugby. This collaboration with the URC and Union medical teams presents a meaningful expansion of the application of our technology to protect the brain health of male and female players of all ages and at each level of the game.”

Marker has maintained its connections in its home city, Birmingham, with a research group based at the BioHub Birmingham®, which is managed by University of Birmingham Enterprise.