Blood test could help diagnose concussions

07 January 2014

A report Monday in the journal Pediatrics says kids who suffer concussions should lay off reading, homework
and video games. By giving their brains a rest, most can recover in 20 to 50
days, about twice as fast as those who keep doing those activities.

We also have news regarding how
concussions are diagnosed. Researchers are developing a test that could be a
game changer.

Quarterback Taylor Kelly of the
Arizona State Sun Devils understands the mindset of college football players
when it comes to injuries: They are going to want to keep playing.

“Guys just want to go out and play it, you know?  They don’t care if their heads are a little
banged up,” Kelly said.


Neurologist Dr. Javier Cardenas
specializes in brain injury. He says overcoming the reluctance of athletes to
admit symptoms is only one of the problems in diagnosing concussions.

“Right now when we identify a
concussion it is purely subjective. We look at symptoms. Do they have
headaches? Do they have dizziness? There is no objective information. Having
something objective is the holy grail of concussion,” said Cardenas.

This season, Kelly and his teammates
took part in a study trying to find a better way to detect concussion. Riddell,
the athletic equipment company, supplied the team with helmets that measure all
head impacts during practices and games. Then, after every game, the players
gave samples of their blood, saliva and urine.

These are now being analyzed at the
Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix to see whether evidence of
head trauma shows up in body fluids as a so-called biomarker.

Brain cells contain generic material
call microRNA. Normally, tiny spheres containing that material break off and
make their way into the spinal fluid, then the bloodstream. During a concussion,
the bran actually bounces against the skull, and researchers believe the impact
can cause changes in the microRNA, changes they hope can be detected in blood

TGen scientists are comparing the RNA
in each player’s body fluids with the impact data from his helmet to see if they
match up.

“It might be that we can actually
protect players. So identify players who are at risk but have them take it
easy, sit out more, based how their biomarkers are rising over time,” said
Kendall Van Keuren-Jenses, a member of the research team.

The scientists have data illustrating
how the technology might have helped one of the players in the study.

The graphic shows the head impacts
recorded in his helmet over several weeks. One hit was the equivalent of four
times the punch b a heavyweight boxer – the hardest impact received by any
player in the study. He continued to play, and was diagnosed with a concussion 10
days later.

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