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Could a Blood Test Diagnose a Concussion?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017By Richard Alexander

A recent Wired article reported on the findings of a study published in The Official Journal of the American Academy of Neurology. The study set out to look at acute plasma tau in relation to prolonged return to play after a concussion. Gill and her colleagues found that elevated plasma tau concentration within six hours following a sports-related concussion was related to having a prolonged return-to-play period, which suggest that tau levels could help inform appropriate recovery periods. For the study, they tracked more than 600 collegiate athletes over two seasons.

Plasma Tau Concentration and Concussion Diagnosis and Severity

Thanks to a super-sensitive, digitized biomarker assay machine, called Simoa, Gill and her colleagues were able to detect tau proteins in an athlete’s blood just hours after an apparent head injury. At this time, the device used to detect the protein is the size of a refrigerator, but safety advocates and researchers are hoping a smaller version might be made available for the sidelines in the future.

Concussion Diagnosis Shortcomings

While this technology is both exciting and encouraging in the field of concussion diagnosis and traumatic brain injury (TBI) treatment, it’s still a long ways from being widely available to student athletes and everyday people across the nation. Until then, parents have to rely on the primitive screening protocol that may or may not be in a youth athletic program. Even the most diligent schools rely on coaches or trainers on the sidelines accessing students for potential head injuries and concussions. School policies can vary from state to state, and some schools aren’t even required to let parents know if their children have been suspected of suffering a brain injury.

Fatal Concussion Injuries in Highs School Football Players

In 2015, six high school students died as a result of traumatic brain injuries suffered on the football field. With research continuing to emerge about the length of time needed to recover from a concussion, we know the dangers of putting children back on the field too quickly. Since symptoms of concussions and TBIs can be mild, subtle and nuanced, the need for a more standardized scientific diagnostic test is essential for improving youth sports safety.

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