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The FDA just approved the first-ever blood test that can diagnose concussions

Published Feb 15th, 2018 10:08AM EST
concussion blood test
Image: Neil Conway

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The human body can become damaged in a seemingly endless number of ways, but doctors have long known that brain trauma is particularly dire. It is not only devastating, but also hard to detect. Diagnosing an individual with a concussion is sometimes a shot in the dark even for trained medical professionals, as symptoms aren’t always apparent and reliable tests like CT scans are incredibly costly and time-consuming. Now, for the first time ever, the FDA has approved a new type of blood test that can detect a concussion with incredible accuracy, and faster than ever before.

The test looks for elevated levels of two types of protein that are produced in the brain when the organ sustains damage. The proteins begin to spike as soon as 15 minutes after the injury occurs, and the blood test can still detect the lingering markers of a concussion as long as 12 hours after the fact.

According to the documentation released by the FDA, the blood test has the power to effectively rule out a concussion 99.6% of the time, and successfully detects brain damage in over 97% of cases. Those are incredibly good odds, and considering the test costs as little as one-tenth as much as a CT scan, it’s a huge win for modern medicine.

This breakthrough in concussion testing and diagnosis comes at a time when the long-term effects of sports-related brain trauma is a hot topic of debate. The NFL and other professional and amateur sports organizations are attempting to get out in front of the issue by launching new initiatives to detect when a player has suffered a concussion, and then prevent that player from participating until they are cleared.

Unfortunately, the newly-approved blood test might not move the needle much when it comes to brain trauma in sports. Many in the medical community believe that concussions and CTE — chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which many NFL players have been shown to suffer from — are separate concerns. It is thought that CTE occurs due to repeated “subconcussive” hits which cause mild brain trauma but aren’t as severe as a concussion. Over time, that damage mounts and may lead to personality changes, mood disorders, and other behavioral issues.

Additionally, while the test itself can be administered as soon as 15 minutes after the individual is suspected of having a concussion, it can take as long as three hours or more for the results to be produced, essentially killing its potential to be used as sideline tool for diagnosis.

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