If you’ve ever had a concussion, you know it’s no fun. For kids it’s even worse, not only because of the debilitating effects, but because the process to confirm you have one is miserable and imprecise. Or, it used to be. A recently developed blood test can detect concussions with near-100 percent accuracy.
A study published in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine confirmed that a particular biomarker could be used to determine if young patients had suffered mild or moderate traumatic brain injuries (MMTBIs). Researchers at Orlando Regional Medical Center in Florida discovered that the biomarker, glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), was higher in the blood of young patients who showed lesions on their brain scans.
Blood was drawn from the young patients within six hours after injury. Injured cells release GFAP, and these pass the blood-brain barrier, making them detectable via blood test. Dr. Lina Papa, MSC, lead author of the study explained that the biomarker can even indicate the severity of the injury, saying “With our blood test, we were able to identify the presence of brain injuries 94 percent of the time.”
CT scans are the established method of determining MMTBIs, but this new test offers doctors an alternative to the expensive test that requires exposing young patients to radiation. Dr. Papa said, “You really want to minimize the amount of CTs you do to your patients, especially children, who are a lot more sensitive to radiation and the side effects that can come with it.”
For the rest of us, researchers found elevated levels of the biomarker in people complaining of MMTBI symptoms. Previous GFAP analysis in an animal study and a comparable study on adults produced similar results. Concussions can be caused by even mild bumps on the head, so having this sort of test for kids who may not be able to articulate how they feel even if they’re old enough to speak could set parents’ minds at ease. Dr. Papa told Fox News, “When we see children who can’t speak and tell us how they feel, having a blood test that can speak for the child and tell us how severe the injury is — that would help us so much.”
This is the most accurate way to detect concussions to date. Dr. Wayne Gordon, vice chair of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at Icahn Mount Sinai who is unaffiliated with the study said, “You don’t have any real sensitive tool for diagnosis … it could ultimately eventually replace CT scans or be used in conjunction with CT scans. If you had a positive finding, you’d know it was a bleed, and you’d want to use a CT scan.”
While this won’t replace CTs for more severe injuries, it does serve as a negative indicator; if a patient’s blood test comes back negative, they can be spared a CT. For those with access, more accurate technologies are emerging for picking up early phase concussions, like resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging. More studies are planned for the blood test, but researchers hope it will be available within the next five years.