New Research Shows Mild Impacts Can Weaken the Blood-Brain Barrier

Studying Impacts on Tablet

In September of 2019, researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Stanford University, and Trinity College in Dublin published findings that show mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) can cause damage to the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB protects the brain from pathogens and toxins. The research study was published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

The study focused on populations that are at high risk of sustaining mTBI, including professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters and adolescent rugby players. The goal of the research was to gauge if the integrity of the blood-brain barrier is altered, as well as how to come up with a better technique to diagnose mTBI.

According to groundbreaking neuroscientist and surgeon, Prof. Alon Friedman, “While the diagnosis of moderate and severe TBI is visible through magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] and computer-aided tomography scanning [CT], it is far more challenging to diagnose and treat mild traumatic brain injury, especially a concussion which doesn't show up on a normal CT.”

Results from the study revealed that mild impacts that are common in MMA and rugby can lead to a leaky BBB. If a larger study yields similar results, then brain imaging techniques in development can be altered to monitor athletes so that "return to play” guidelines can become safer.

How the Study Was Conducted

The MMA fighters involved in the study were examined prior to their fight to set a baseline and again examined within 120 hours following the fight. The rugby players were examined before and after the season. A subset of the rugby cases was examined post-match.

Both the MMA fighters and rugby players were evaluated with:

  • An advanced MRI protocol developed at BGU
  • Analysis of BBB biomarkers in the blood
  • A special mouth guard developed at Stanford with sensors that track speed, acceleration, and force at nearly 10,000 measurements per second.

Here are a few of the findings from the study:

  • 10 out of 19 rugby players exhibited signs of a leaky BBB by the time the season ended
  • Of the 8 rugby players scanned post-match, 2 had BBB disruptions
  • The types of injuries found were lower than the current threshold for mTBI
  • The level BBB damage seen on an MRI could be correlated with measurements from the mouthguard sensors

Speaking about the research finding, Prof. Friedman said:

“The current theory today is that it is the outer surface of the brain that is damaged in a concussion since, during an impact, the brain ricochets off of skull surfaces like Jell-O. However, we can see now that the trauma's effects are evident much deeper in the brain and that the current model of concussion is too simplistic.”

“It is likely that kids are experiencing these injuries during the season but aren't aware of them or are asymptomatic. We hope our research using MRI and other biomarkers can help better detect a significant brain injury that may occur after what seems to be a 'mild TBI' among amateur and professional athletes.”

Speak to an Experienced Traumatic Brain Injury Lawyer Today

At Scarlett Law Group, our team of dedicated lawyers understands that traumatic brain injury is not like any other injury. That is why we are committed to helping clients throughout the greater San Francisco area fight for the compensation they deserve after sustaining a TBI in a serious or catastrophic accident.  If you or a loved one is dealing with symptoms of TBI after an accident, then you need to get in touch with us today to discuss your situation with one of our seasoned lawyers.

Call (415) 688-2176 today to request your case consultation with a member of our firm.