A concussion is a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that affects the way the brain functions. Symptoms caused by this impaired brain function include headaches, problems with concentration, memory lapses and sleep disturbances. Concussion is a common sports-related childhood head injury, which if not resolved, can pose serious health risks.
In new study published in Academic Emergency Medicine, researchers at Orlando Health have come up with a simple blood test that can detect concussions in children with 94 percent accuracy. The team says that the test could help reduce the need for computed tomography (CT) scans. A CT scan, which is the current diagnostic approach to detecting brain injuries, comes with radiation exposure and is expensive.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2009, an estimated 248,418 children (age 19 or younger) were treated in U.S. emergency departments for sports and recreation-related injuries that included a diagnosis of concussion or TBI. To prevent serious brain damage, children asked to take rest after a concussion.
The research team found the biomarker, called glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) found around the brain’s neurons gets released into the bloodstream only when there is an injury, making it easy to detect. The new blood test measures the levels of GFAP.
CT scans as well as blood tests were done on 152 children with head injuries and the results were compared. Blood serum from the patients was taken less than six hours after their injuries. While CT scans were able to identify patients who had suffered traumatic brain injuries, the blood test detected symptoms of concussions even when brain injuries were not visible on the CT scan. The blood test also gave doctors an indication of the severity of the injury. Levels of the biomarker were lower in mild cases, and were much more elevated in severe cases.
The researchers plan to translate this simple test into a mobile point-of-care (POC) test so that it can be used on the playing field to help coaches, trainers and athletic directors make decisions about whether the child can get back in the game. With more studies, they hope the blood test will be available commercially within the next five years.