Blood test in development for concussions

Baldwin Wallace Center Kyle Augustitus gets his blood drawn as part of the Clinic concussion study.
Baldwin Wallace Center Kyle Augustitus gets his blood drawn as part of the Clinic concussion study.

Football players are no strangers to head injury. Damir Janigro, Professor of Molecular Medicine and Director of Cerebrovascular Research at the Cleveland Clinic, is drawing blood from players at Baldwin Wallace College after their practice today; he’s studying a way to identify concussions through a blood test, rather than relying on an expensive CT scan.

JANIGRO: We are looking for a protein named S100b and this protein is normally present in brain but not in blood.

If the protein shows up in a player’s blood, this indicates there’s been damage to the blood brain barrier, which could signal brain damage.

The Centers for Disease Control estimate that each year 1.7 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury. Most of these are concussions, which are often caused by a blow to the head that jars the brain. This leads to headache, slurred speech, fatigue, confusion, or even loss of consciousness. With rest, the brain can heal itself but it is a serious condition that if left unattended can cause permanent brain damage.

Concussions sometimes go unnoticed because the symptoms are wide-ranging and can vary by severity. A blood test that could provide a simple “yes/no” determination for brain injury after a blow would solve the problem of missed or late diagnosis.

It could also help doctors determine the severity of the concussion, when it may be safe for a player to return to the field after sustaining a head injury, and it could assess the threat of repeated blows to the brain.

Baldwin Wallace Center Kyle Augustitus, sitting down after practice to get his blood drawn, thinks it could be useful to have a test like this:

AUGUSTITUS: I mean I’m curious to find out what’s going to happen to me when I’m older. Anything that will help out with determining this head injury that’s causing so much trouble for everybody.

Several European countries already use this type of blood test for diagnosing a concussion; Clinic researchers will use the data collected from this study to apply for FDA approval for use of the test in the United States.

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