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Blood test may identify concussion, new study shows

Altered levels of protein biomarkers in blood following brain injury can be used as diagnostic tool

Physicians may be able to tell if a person suffered a concussion by performing a simple blood test, according to a new study by University researchers. The team of brain injury specialists, which included professors and physicians from Alpert Medical School, pinpointed a set of biomarker proteins whose levels change in a person’s blood following a concussion — also known as a mild traumatic brain injury. The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma.

The researchers — with the goal of developing a routine diagnostic test for concussions — studied emergency room patients who had suffered from a mild brain injury within the last 24 hours, according to the study. The scientists performed immunoassays on the patients’ blood samples to measure the levels of various proteins in the blood. Using information from previous animal studies, the researchers assessed the blood levels of 18 proinflammatory proteins to determine whether their concentrations also change in humans who sustained a concussion, said Adam Chodobski, associate professor of emergency medicine at the Med School and senior author of the paper.

They found that in the hours following a concussion, the concentration of four of the assessed proteins significantly changed in the blood of the participants with mild traumatic brain injuries compared to that of the control patients. While the proteins galectin, matrix metalloproteinase-9 and occludin were all shown to increase within eight hours following mild traumatic brain injury, the protein copeptin decreased in the same time frame, according to the study.

The study included two control groups: one of uninjured subjects and another of patients who had suffered long bone fractures. The second group allowed researchers to demonstrate that the protein levels do not change in any type of traumatic injury, Chodobski added. But the biomarkers identified in the study cannot detect a concussion with equal precision if the patient has another injury in addition to a concussion, he added.

“These biomarkers can establish with high accuracy the difference between an uninjured individual and a patient with isolated concussion,” Chodobski said.

The project, which was funded by  donor Diane Weiss and the Department of Emergency Medicine, implemented a novel biomarker method, Chodobski said. The traditional biomarker approach involves examination of proteins released by dying brain cells after injury, but the researchers working on this study analyzed the proteins produced by brain cells that were still alive, he said, adding that he hopes it will be used more prevalently following this study.

The research team is interested in commercializing the assay used in the study, said Joanna Szmydynger-Chodobska, assistant professor of emergency medicine and a co-author of the paper. The assay could one day be implemented in emergency rooms as a quick and robust way to diagnose concussions, she added. The team has already filed for a patent and is now seeking additional funding to perform a larger-scale study and develop the biotechnology.


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