SFU is saving athletes one sticker at a time

Technology for preventing head injuries has been a long time coming for sports

For many years, concussions were something sports coaches, and even doctors knew little about in regards to long-term repercussions. Back in 2002, Dr. Bennet Omalu was the first to discover chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a severe degenerative disease that affects many parts of the brain, caused by repeated trauma to the head. It was discovered after the many cases of concussions found in professional football players in the US, and later discovered in many other contact sports where head trauma is possible.

15 years later, SFU’s very own Shield-X, has proven to dramatically reduce the risk of serious brain conditions like CTE. A recent study claims that thanks to the device, there were reportedly 31% fewer concussions.

Shield-X was created seven years ago at Simon Fraser’s Head Injury Prevention Lab, part of the School of Mechatronics Systems Engineering. Since its creation, it has been rigorously tested on hundreds of athletes in both the US and Canada to ensure its ability to prevent concussions.

As football is notorious for its head-to-head impact, the most recent study focused on over 300 high school athletes on football teams in Canada and south of the border over the 2016 football season. However, the technology is not limited to football players. As chief technology officer and post-doctoral student at SFU, Daniel Abram, explains, “The Shield-X membrane can be implemented in different ways to enhance the protection of any headgear.” It can be easily applied to the inside or outside of a helmet like a sticker, and Abram hopes to see it used in ski, hockey, and bike helmets.

With football and hockey being in the spotlight of concussion research, the typically male-dominated sports have left females out of the majority of brain trauma related studies. An article from Medical Xpress claims that incomplete studies comparing male and female college athletes are to blame. However, a recent study has now discovered in comparable sports, like soccer and basketball, females are 50% more likely than males to suffer a concussion, and that number skyrockets after an athlete has already experienced one.

A recent panel discussion at McGill University concluded college sports are starting to see an epidemic of concussions. This is mainly due to the fact that athletes tend not to report injuries — especially if they are in a sport with a short season, leaving them only a handful of weeks to showcase their skills. Although we are seeing preventative steps being taken at research centres like we have at SFU, there is still a general lack of technology to monitor athletes after they have suffered from a brain injury.

A doctor who participated in the discussion, Dr. Guy Rouleau, said that “there are very few objective tests to evaluate the injury. We can’t predict recovery rates, complications, or potential long-term consequences of repeated concussions. We don’t know why some people are more susceptible than others.” This is all due to the current lack of research, technology, and funding.

Shield-X can potentially protect many of our fellow students as they follow their college sports dreams, but much is needed to be done in order to ensure they’ll lead full lives after college. As for concussion-prone sports, such as soccer, rugby, cheerleading, and many others that do not have helmets as part of their attire, there is still much to do.