World Rugby to undertake mouthguard study to probe head injuries

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(Reuters) - World Rugby will undertake a study using mouthguards embedded with microchips to monitor impacts during games with the aim of improving the detection and prevention of head injuries, the sport's global governing body said.

More than 700 community level players in New Zealand, from Under-13 level and upwards, will participate in the study, which starts this month and is being led by academics from University of Otago.

The mouthguards collect and transmit data on head impacts in real time during games.

"Player welfare continues to be top priority," World Rugby Chief Medical Officer Eanna Falvey said. "By commissioning and partnering in research, we can make evidence-based decisions that will advance our understanding of injuries.

"We have been monitoring instrumented mouthguard technology for some time, and rapid advances in sensitivity make it possible to distinguish between head impact, jump or shouting.

"The scale of this study should not be underestimated."

Clubs in England's Premiership -- Leicester, Gloucester and Harlequins -- already use microchipped mouthguards to monitor the impact of collisions.

Other sports are conducting mouthguard trials, including rugby league side Salford, while Liverpool and Manchester City will also use chipped mouthguards in age-group and women's teams next season.

World Rugby also said this week that it would evaluate the latest eye-tracking technology to assist with the identification and management of concussions in the sport.

Concussions and their long-term effects have been in the spotlight since former players filed a lawsuit against governing bodies World Rugby, England's Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union which alleged a failure to protect them from the risks.

Many former rugby players have been diagnosed with permanent brain damage, early onset dementia, depression or symptoms and signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

(Reporting by Arvind Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)