Rights: The University of Waikato Published 21 July 2007 Download

Dr Richard Watts from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Canterbury talks about research they have done on a group of boxers, looking at the damage they receive through suffering repeat mild head injuries.

The information he is getting from these boxers can be used to understand what happens to other people who suffer brain injuries, such as after a fall or accident. At the time the damage may seem minor but, in many cases, patients develop symptoms in the long term that researchers are trying to better understand.


We’ve done some research looking at professional boxers. These people provide a very good test case of what we call mild closed head injuries. So these are not head injuries where you’ve broken the skull, what these boxers suffer are repeated blows to the head, fairly mild blows individually but over time these accumulate. Well professional boxers are an excellent test case for these mild head injuries. There’s no way that we could do a study where we ask people to be deliberately injured to produce brain injuries, and so it’s interesting as a test case but we can also look at boxers from the perspective that maybe some of them should give up boxing at some point. You can look at the damage and when it gets to a certain level you might say look you should stop boxing now otherwise you’re gonna develop symptoms later on. Now what we’re really interested in are these guys as a test case for other people who have mild head injuries. So for instance you fall down, you bang your head on concrete, you might be knocked out for a few seconds, and then you’ll go into hospital. And then generally you’ll recover, but a substantial proportion of patients who have these mild head injuries will later go on to develop some other symptoms and will have problems associated with that. At the moment we don’t really understand the mechanism of these injuries. We don’t know which part of the brain is being affected.

It’s not the big injuries it’s the small injuries. And we can identify which parts of the brain are particularly susceptible to mild head injuries and we’re then going to use this information to go further and to look at a whole group of people with mild head injuries to see whether we can pick up specific parts of the brain in them that are involved in the injury, and whether we can correlate that with the symptom and then hopefully we can treat those so we can prevent those symptoms from appearing later.

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