Currently, diagnosing children with a concussion is usually based entirely on subjective symptoms such as vomiting, balance, issues, headaches, or vision issues. However, this diagnosis method leaves much to be desired. It can be highly inaccurate and frequently give no indication of the true severity of the injury.
However, researchers say they have found a new way to diagnose concussions in children that is more accurate and provides a better understanding of individual cases. The team says they have developed a blood test that can accurately indicate whether a person has experienced a brain injury and assess its severity by measuring the levels of a specific protein.
“With our blood test, we were able to identify the presence of brain injuries 94 percent of the time — this simple blood test was nearly as accurate as a state-of-the-art CT scan,” Dr. Linda Papa, an emergency medicine physician at Orlando Regional Medical Center, said in a press release. “We were looking at different types of brain lesions detected by the CT scans, ranging from mild to serious injuries, and found that the biomarker we tested for actually corresponded to the injuries. Levels of the biomarker were lower in mild cases, and were much more elevated in severe case.”
For the study, which was published in Academic Emergency Medicine, the researchers recruited 257 children, 197 of whom reported blunt head trauma. The other 60 participants acted as a control group. Of the children with head trauma, 152 underwent computed tomography scans to detect for concussion.
All participants were then given blood tests for glial fibrillary acidic protein, a protein found in glial cells, which surround neurons in the brain. The protein is only released when brain cells have been injured and can pass through the blood-brain barrier, leading researchers to believe it could serve as an effective biomarker for brain injuries.
According to their findings, the blood test accurately diagnosed individuals with a concussion 94 percent of the time.
Ultimately, Papa hopes to develop a test that can be administered at the point-of-care by coaches or trainers during games to quickly assess players’ brain health. Past studies have found a combination of vision, balance, and cognition tests correctly identifies patients 86 percent of the time. The blood test could improve accuracy greatly and prevent athletes from suffering further, more severe injury.
“This could ultimately change the way we diagnose concussions, not only in children, but in anyone who sustains a head injury,” Papa said. “We have so many diagnostic blood tests for different parts of the body, like the heart, liver and kidneys, but there’s never been a reliable blood test to identify trauma in the brain. We think this test could change that.”