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Grant Awarded for Study of Blood Test to Spot Concussions

Blood test (NIH)

National Institutes of Health

Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio have received a grant from National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the effectiveness of a blood test that identifies concussions in college football players. Damir Janigro and Nicola Marchi of the Cleveland Clinic are the lead researchers on this study, in collaboration with Jeffrey Bazarian at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head that can change the way the brain normally works. Concussions can also occur from a blow to the body that causes the head to move rapidly back and forth, such as often occur in football.

Identifying a concussion is difficult. To diagnose a concussion today relies either on subjective cognitive/behavioral tests, which for athletes are done in chaotic locker rooms or sidelines, or expensive CT scans or MRIs that are normally available only a full-fledged medical facilities.

A blood test would let a doctor determine if an athlete needs medical attention as a result of in-game collisions. The test would also offer a much less expensive alternative (about $20) and could be performed anywhere, such as a locker room or doctor’s office.

The proposed test uses blood samples taken before and after a game and searches for a biomarker known as S100B that signifies brain damage if found in elevated levels in an athlete’s blood. This protein is typically found in the brain, so finding elevated levels of S100B in the blood is a sign of damage to the blood-brain barrier that protects the brain from circulating blood. The $250,000 NIH grant will allow researchers to compare players’ S100B levels to their brain MRIs, in order to determine if S100B can detect brain damage.

In preliminary testing, Cleveland Clinic researchers measured S100B levels in 33 college football players prior to, immediately after, and one day after a game. Average S100B levels immediately after the game were significantly higher than the baseline only in those players who experienced the most head-to-head impact during the game.

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