Race appears to be on to find a blood test for brain injuries

Whenever a medical condition begins to make headlines a push seems to follow from the research community to try to find ways to deal with it. We saw it happen with polio. It happened again with AIDS, and most recently with the horrendous Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The good news is that very often, researchers succeed in finding solutions.

Now it seems that traumatic brain injuries are a major focus. It makes sense. All TBIs are serious, even though they may vary widely in terms of their severity. At one end of the spectrum might be a concussion suffered by a child hit in the head by a fly ball. On the other end might be the accident that leaves a victim and his or her family with problems that last a lifetime.

Experts acknowledge that one of the biggest challenges they face is in properly diagnosing how bad an injury may be. Someone with a mild concussion diagnosis may display symptoms that are anything but mild. Some who are diagnosed with severe trauma may well get back to pre-injury status. It’s hard for doctors to know what treatments to apply.

Research suggests that the route to improving diagnoses and formulating treatments is in our blood. There is widespread understanding that traumatic brain injuries lead to altered levels of very specific proteins in the blood. Injuries trigger higher production of some particular proteins and lower amounts of another called BDNF.

While one group of researchers at Johns Hopkins University is focusing efforts on assessing the relationship between lower BDNF levels and brain injury, there are at least a couple of companies working to gauge levels of several other proteins that have been shown to rise after a brain injury.

At the very least, the researchers say success in developing a blood test could reduce the need for expensive computerized tomography testing. And beyond that, it might provide doctors guidance on what care to prescribe.

Source: TechnologyReview.com, “Two Companies Close In on a Concussion Blood Test,” Mike Orcutt, Aug. 27, 2015