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Researchers Identify Biomarkers That May Help Diagnose Concussions, Brain Injuries Through Blood Tests

By: Allan M. Siegel

Mild traumatic brain injuries, or concussions, are notorious for being difficult to diagnose. This is due in large part to imaging tests, such as CT scans or MRIs, which are not always able to identify mild traumas in the brain. Although doctors and specialists commonly make diagnoses for concussions, they often do so as a result of comprehensive evaluations, including discussions about the symptoms victims experience after suffering head trauma – an approach that causes many mTBIs to go undiagnosed and many patients to miss out on treatment important to their recoveries.

In an attempt to address the difficulties of accurately identifying concussions in victims and avoiding lasting neurological impairment, especially after repeated occurrences, researchers from UCLA have been exploring new diagnostic methods and a brain injury “signature” that can objectively identify milder TBIs in their early stages. Their findings are suggesting that certain biomarkers identified through blood tests may be the key.

According to researchers, four distinct biomarkers – proteins from brain cells known as astrocytes – may be the “signature” that can help doctors diagnose trauma and concussions missed by current tests. These biomarkers are released instantly into the bloodstream when the outer membrane of brain cells (astrocytes) rupture as a result of blunt trauma to the head or sudden acceleration and deceleration of the brain within the skull, which can occur when victims suffer whiplash in car accidents.

Here are a few key takeaways from the research:

  • UCLA neuroscientists and research staff mechanically placed trauma on human brain cells and found that they leaked significant amounts of certain proteins. Those same proteins were found in cerebral spinal fluid from patients with confirmed traumatic brain injuries, leading researchers to suspect that they could serve as biomarkers.
  • In order to have viable ways of identifying those biomarkers, researchers explored whether they could also be found in the bloodstream of victims who suffered blows or sudden forces to the head. They analyzed blood samples of victims who suffered brain injuries of varying degrees on the date of injury and each day for the following five days.
  • Findings of the blood testing showed that three of the biomarkers were present in a victim’s blood as immediately as one hour after injury – even when injuries were mild enough that they were not detected by CT scans. They also noted that those three biomarkers were the proteins released by damaged astrocyte cells. The fourth is linked to cell death after trauma.

The findings are a significant breakthrough in the fight to better identify brain injuries and treat victims, and they can have many beneficial applications. This includes not only making it possible to accurately diagnose mild forms of brain injuries, better monitor damage to brain cells, assess severity, and guide treatment approaches, but also using simple blood tests to make those diagnoses as early as within 1 hour of injury. This can make a critical difference for all victims, including athletes who can use test results to prevent repeated trauma and focus on rest and recovery.

As designated “Preferred Attorneys” for the DC Metro area by the Brain Injury Association of America, our legal team has tremendous respect for the researchers and medical professionals who expand our collective understanding of brain injuries and ways to better diagnose and treat patients. Over the past 45 years our firm has been serving victims throughout Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC, we have seen the tremendous impact brain injuries and concussions can have on the lives of victims and their loved ones, and believe the studies performed today will provide better and more effective resources in the future.

As modern science continues to address brain injuries and their potential for severe and lasting consequences, we continue to prioritize our role as advocates for brain injury victims, both for the public at large and victims who suffered harm as a result of negligence. If you would like more information about your rights following a preventable brain injury or concussion, including those sustained in auto accidents, truck accidents, sports, or other accidents, contact us to request a free consultation.