The rugby party continues as we welcome home the All Blacks with their newly- engraved Webb Ellis cup.

But as we celebrate New Zealand's rugby success and a new generation of young rugby fans run out to join their local team, science is still inconclusive about the impacts of playing contact sports and long term brain function.

Concussion is a form of brain injury that occurs after a blow to the head hard enough to cause the fluid surrounding the brain to push against the side of our skull, bruising the brain or tearing and stretching nerve tissues.

In mild concussion, adequate rest may enable the torn fibres to repair themselves but in severe or repeated concussion events the fibres can lose their ability to send signals and communicate with other brain cells which may result in permanent injury and sometimes even death.


Concussion is seriously costly. More than 6000 people in New Zealand have suffered head injuries while playing rugby, resulting in sports related concussion injuries costing ACC $76 million between 2009 and 2013. The long term effects of concussion are still not conclusive, but a scientific study involving Auckland University of Technology, the New Zealand Rugby Union and the International Rugby Board surveyed 600 retired New Zealand rugby and cricket players and found those with four or more concussions performed worse in some neuropsychological tests, while those with one to three concussions had a worse result in one of five balance tests.

Concussion is managed in a very non-technical way. The coach or medics visually observe a head knock during a game and pull the player off if they lose consciousness, show memory loss, feel dazed, have a headache or vomit.

Luckily this week I was part of the judging team for the Samsung Springboard tech company competition and listened to chief commercial officer of CSx, Martin Weekes deliver his winning pitch about an amazing invention made in an Auckland garage and crowded office on K Rd. I'm always in awe of what New Zealand's number-8 wire mentality can create and the CSx team of four people were just one example among the finalists competing for $30,000 in cash, Icehouse business development workshops and an opportunity to develop their company globally at the Kiwi Landing pad in San Francisco.

Judging start-up competitions is never easy, especially with such a high calibre of finalists, but for me CSx were a clear winner. Over the past five years, CSx have hand-built waterproof micro-sensors the size of a $1 coin to measure linear and rotational acceleration as well as impact count and duration experienced by the brain during play. Sensors taped behind a player's ear transmit data to an app showing live information on each player with a concussion management algorithm for simple diagnosis immediately after a head knock. Because there is continued monitoring of each player and cloud stored data of any previous concussion history, the app not only determines risk of concussion but also predicts when it's safe to return to play.

Their technology was adopted for use at this year's Rugby World Cup after two season trials by professional and amateur rugby teams in New Zealand and Australia.

I see a bright future for CSx. Their scientific solution for the problem of concussion monitoring and management will give peace of mind to parents and enable coaches to accurately assess players throughout their long and hopefully trophy winning rugby careers.

Dr Michelle Dickinson, also known as Nanogirl, is an Auckland University nanotechnologist who is passionate about getting Kiwis hooked on science. Tweet her your science questions @medickinson.