New blood test may soon diagnose concussions

Test may be used to diagnose injuries on the field, doctors say

ORLANDO, Fla. - Traumatic brain injuries are a big deal for anyone who gets them. Whether it be in a car accident, a fall, or even a sports injury, doctors recommend they be taken seriously.

[WEB EXTRA: How the test works]

Each year, nearly a quarter million children end up with a concussion from playing sports.

Kate Raliff is one of them.

"She is a goalie, and she was coming after the ball and a girl was coming after her, as well, and she got kicked in the head," said Kate's mom, Misty Ratliff.

Ratliff said it didn't seem like that much of a big deal at first.

"We actually didn't get her checked out right away, because she didn't have the symptoms right at the beginning," said Ratliff. "But a couple hours later, she started vomiting, had a headache."

That happens more than you may think. Often, the symptoms can be subtle, or even delayed. But Papa said the longer a brain injury is left untreated, the worse the damage can be.

"There really is a need to try to detect these injuries early and with the tools we have now, they're really not sensitive enough to detect these kinds of injuries," said Dr. Linda Papa of Orlando Health.

That's why Papa and a team of Orlando Health researchers have been working on a new way to detect mild concussions by looking at what are called biomarkers in a patient's blood.

"The markers that we are looking at are released from the brain and not from any other parts of the body, which is what makes them so unique," said Papa. "Just a simple blood test will tell us if some of these proteins that are released from the brain after an injury are detected in the blood."

In a recent study, she took blood from 152 children who had brain injuries, then gave each a CT scan. Those scans were able to find small lesions on the brain, and so were the blood tests. Papa said those biomarkers in the blood actually identify brain injuries with 94 percent accuracy.
They can even tell doctors how serious the injury was, even if no injury at all was detected on the CT scan.

"We're looking at different types of lesions we find on CT scans," said Papa. "Those that are more severe, those that are less severe, and the biomarker actually is elevated in the more severe injuries. Patients that have a negative CT scan but have problems later on with concentration or thinking or memory have higher levels than those who do not have those problems going on."

Papa said the test that could easily end up being done on the field in the future to diagnose concussions on the spot.

"Just a small prick like we do with diabetes, to put it on a little slide and put it in a machine," said Papa. "The idea is to get a point-of-care test that could be done on the field to help the coaches and the trainers and the athletic directors make a decision about whether the child should go back to play."

The test would also be beneficial for adults and other people who suffer injuries in other scenarios than playing sports.

Papa said one of the other great things about a test like this is that it doesn't expose patients to radiation like a CT scan does. She said she hopes the diagnostic blood test could be offered in hospitals and even on the field in the next five years.