There’s mounting evidence that a simple blood test can one day – maybe in the near future – detect concussions.
Researchers have discovered a protein linked with head trauma released in the blood stream up to a week after injury, making it easy to identify and diagnose a concussion even when patients delay treatment.
The study took place in a Florida hospital, and while the research is still preliminary, the new findings are considered “a substantial step”. The concussion blood test based on the two proteins studied are under review, but is likely years away from regular use.
The potential applications of this blood test are broad, from the battlefield to sports events and doctors’ offices, according to an editorial published with the study Monday in JAMA Neurology.
Dr. Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, co-author of the editorial said the researchers will probably find more ‘biomarkers’ that will all be integral in diagnosing concussions, “each of which will tell us something slightly different” about the injury.
The tests measured two proteins, nicknamed GFAP and UCH-L1, which are present in brain cells. Whenever head trauma occurs, these proteins sometimes leak into the bloodstream. Other research backs up this theory: the more severe an injury, the more proteins were present.
In the study, both proteins were highly present in the concussion patients they tested, while virtually non-existent in non-concussion cases. Levels of the UCH protein rose quickly but declined substantially within two days, while GFAP levels were detectable during the week following injury.
A lot of concussion patients put off getting a head injury checked out, only making the trip to the doctor are symptoms appearing, or getting worse. The blood test not only makes a quick, accurate diagnosis, but help determine whether neurological testing or other medical treatment is needed.
Dr. Walter Koroshetz, director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, is encouraged by the findings. To put the breakthrough into perspective, he says finding an easily detectable biomarker for concussions is “the holy grail for head injury” research.
With blood tests already created that diagnose problems with other organs like the heart, liver, and kidney, a test for the brain isn’t too far behind.