Scientists Develop Blood Test to Identify Concussions in Young Athletes

The test has shown more than 90 percent accuracy

Scientists Develop Blood Test to Identify Concussions in Young Athletes
Image: Pixabay
November 17, 2016

Scientists working at the Children's Health Research Institute and Western University have created a blood test that can identify concussions in adolescent athletes with more than 90 percent accuracy.

Science Daily describes the difficulty that healthcare professionals currently face in diagnosing a clinically significant concussion or a mild traumatic brain injury. At this time, such diagnoses depend on a combination of patient symptoms and the judgment of the clinician. It is also difficult to determine whether or not the patient should continue normal activities and, for those whose concussion was severe, when it will be safe to participate in such activities again.

The researchers have shown that a blood test can now accurately diagnose the injury by using a kind of blood profiling known as metabolomics. According to Tech Times, the test is relatively simple: blood is taken from a patient who has experienced a severe head injury within 72 hours of the blow. Then the metabolites in the blood—molecules resulting from the body's metabolic processes—are measured. If the healthcare professional sees a certain distinct pattern of these molecules, it is an indication that the patient has a concussion.

Dr. Douglas Fraser, a physician working at the Paediatric Critical Care Unit at Children's Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre, was one of the scientists leading the study. "This novel approach, to use blood testing of metabolites as a diagnostic tool for concussions, was exploratory and we were extremely pleased with the robustness of our initial results," he told Science Daily. "We looked at a host of patterns and it appears that those who suffered a concussion have a very different pattern than those who have not had a concussion."

This new method of diagnosing concussions is unique because previous tries looked in vain for one extremely accurate protein biomarker that would be able to distinguish adolescent patients with a concussion from those without one. This time, the scientists approached the problem differently and instead looked at 174 metabolites.

"We looked at all of these metabolites in concussed male adolescent patients and in non-concussed male adolescent patients and it turns out that the spectrum is really different," said Dr. Mark Daley, a professor in the Departments of Computer Science, Biology and Statistics and Actuarial Sciences at Western University who also led the study. "There is no one metabolite that we can put a finger on but when we looked at all of them, those profiles are different enough that we could easily distinguish concussed patients from non-concussed. In fact, with fine tuning we can now look at sets of as few as 20-40 specific metabolites and maintain the diagnostic accuracy level of the test over 90 per cent."

Concussions are major public health concerns. They often lead to significant acute symptoms and, for some patients, long-term neurological dysfunction.

"The discovery of a blood test that can aid in concussion diagnosis is very important," says Dr. Fraser. "With further research, we anticipate that our blood test will also aid clinicians in predicting concussion outcome, as well as aid rehabilitation after concussion."