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Could a New Blood Test Change the Way We Evaluate Concussions?

By: Allan M. Siegel

A new study performed by researchers has found that a particular protein can predict if a person who has suffered a potential traumatic brain injury will suffer concussion symptoms. The protein, calpain-cleaved αII-spectrin N-terminal fragment (or more simply "SNTF") is present in all human brains. In a healthy brain SNTF maintains stable and balanced levels; however, once nerve cells are damaged and begin to die SNTF levels rise. So when a person suffers a concussion or other traumatic brain injury, the SNTF accumulates in brain nerve cells called axons and spills into the blood, making it detectable in blood tests.

Concussion Blood Test

The study performed on Swedish hockey players, found that SNTF rose and stayed elevated in players with persistent concussion symptoms but not in players who recovered shortly after suffering a concussion. Current tests for concussions, such as CT scans, can appear completely normal even when a person has suffered a concussion and is experiencing the after effects. A testing for SNTF was found to have high levels of accuracy in determining which players continued to have persistent cognitive problems and which players recovered shortly thereafter. The researchers are continuing to work to determine when is the best time to administer the test after a concussion to measure SNTF to determine whether persistent brain dysfunction will occur and to evaluate its effectiveness in cases where individuals suffer multiple concussions and begin to experience brain damage and persistent disability.

The findings by the Penn researchers may revolutionize how concussions are diagnosed, and potentially how they are treated. For practical purposes SNTF testing could become a significant part of "return to play" protocols adopted in athletics, providing an objective measure to determine if a player is still suffering post-concussion symptoms. It also could help determine how long a player who recently suffered a concussion could expect to suffer from those symptoms. And perhaps most importantly, it could take the guesswork out of determining if a player has suffered a concussion in the first place. Rather than relying on subjective testing or description of symptoms provided by players, trainers and medical staff may someday have the ability to simply prick the player's finger and know immediately the SNTF levels. Although, additionally testing will be needed, Robert Siman, a lead author of the study has already begun work on developing a commercial test of SNTF to hopefully make these possible everyday uses a reality.

At Chaikin, Sherman, Cammarata, and Siegel, P.C., we understand the potentially devastating long term effects a concussion can cause and we continually stay informed of the developments in brain injury litigation. If you were injured playing sports, in an accident, or due to the negligence of another, we may be able to help you recover damages for injuries due to a traumatic brain injury.