Top notch University of Regina concussion research receives attention down-under

By Costa Maragos Posted: May 9, 2018 6:00 a.m.

Dr Stephen Kara, Axis Sports Medicine, Dr. Patria Hume, Auckland University of Technology, Dr. Patrick Neary, University of Regina, Josh McEown, PhD Student and Will Gardiner (back row), former rugby player.
Dr Stephen Kara, Axis Sports Medicine, Dr. Patria Hume, Auckland University of Technology, Dr. Patrick Neary, University of Regina, Josh McEown, PhD Student and Will Gardiner (back row), former rugby player. Photo courtesy of Doug Sherring

A world away, Dr. Patrick Neary’s research is having an immediate impact.

Neary, professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, was a visiting professor at the Sports Performance Research Institute at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in New Zealand. AUT is leading the Global Rugby Health Research Programme under the leadership of Dr. Patria Hume, Professor of Human Performance at AUT.

Neary is one of two Canadians contributing to research that hopes to improve the lives of current and former rugby players.

The research went global following the findings of the New Zealand Rugby Health project.

Retired rugby players studied were shown to have increased osteoarthritis and decreased brain function. The findings, published by the Journal Sports Medicine in 2016, sparked a call for increased investigation in this area.  

The collaboration involves research from Auckland University of Technology (NZ), Leeds Beckett University (UK), the University of Aberdeen (UK), the University of Sydney (Australia), La Brobe University (Australia), and the University of Western Australia. The University of Victoria and the University of Regina are the research team's Canadian contingent.

The Canadian team is made up of Neary, who runs the U of R’s Concussion Testing Centre, and Dr. Steve Martin, professor of Exercise Science, Physical & Health Education, and Varsity medical doctor at the University of Victoria. More recently Dr. Kathy Gaul and Dr.Lynneth Stuart-Hill joined the University of Victoria team.

Concussion Testing
Dr. Patrick Neary conducted concussion tests while at Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. Photo by Doug Sherring.

Neary’s role is to provide an indication of the long-term effects of multiple concussions on brain and heart function. He shared his concussion protocol (‘Neary Protocol’) with the research team in New Zealand in March 2018.

In 2017, he was invited to introduce the protocol at Leeds Beckett University in Leeds UK. This was very successful and now the Leeds Beckett researchers, Dr. Karen Hind and graduate student Anick Sharma, are preparing manuscripts for publication which Neary will co-author.
 
“We felt this was the best way our colleagues can learn what we have established and published previously, in an effort to collect the same data here and to contribute to a global pool of brain physiology data,” says Neary.

While in New Zealand, Neary gave a public presentation of his research and was busy testing some retired rugby players.   
 
“This was a great opportunity to meet first hand some of the best rugby players in the world,” says Neary.

Neary has been conducting concussion sessions at the U of R for more than a decade, testing university athletes from numerous sports.

He’s also worked with the Western Hockey League. In 2016, his testing expanded to include members of Regina’s Campbell Collegiate football team.

“Our concussion testing laboratory has been assessing players with concussions for more than10 years using a technology called infrared spectroscopy,” says Neary. “The hope is that our research will provide a concussion diagnosis and lead to an even greater understanding of when it is okay to return to sports following a concussion."

Much of Neary’s work has been focused on brain function. He says blood flow and heart rate play key roles, particularly for rehabilitation.

Thus, Neary believes appropriate exercise following a concussion may help in the recovery process.

”Concussion awareness is becoming more and more common place but we still need to educate young athletes on the potential consequences if not treated with appropriate rehabilitation,” he says.

Results of Global Rugby Health Research Programme are expected next year, with plans to present some of the data at the World Cup Rugby in Japan September, 2019.  

It’s hoped the findings will help lead to a speedier recovery for those suffering from concussions.

Neary’s research has been funded nationally by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and provincially by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Neary is an active member of the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment at the U of R. His work focusses on heart rate variability and post-traumatic stress disorder in first responders and other public safety personnel

If you have played competitive rugby, hockey, football, or soccer, and are concerned about possible concussions, please contact Dr. Patrick Neary at patrick.neary@uregina.ca or Dr. Steve Martin at semartin@uvic.ca.