UCLA researchers have found a way for doctors to diagnose brain trauma and concussions using blood tests.
In a study published last week, researchers led by Ina Wanner, a neuroscientist at the David Geffen School of Medicine, found that a type of brain cell known as astrocytes releases large amounts of four specific types of proteins when the brain is injured. These four proteins enter the bloodstream after an injury, which doctors can measure from a blood sample to diagnose a patient with brain trauma or concussions.
Brain trauma and concussions are currently diagnosed through a CT scan or by assessing markers of a patient’s level of consciousness after an injury, such as their speech pattern or difficulty in swallowing. Research has shown that current methods to diagnose brain trauma may not be able to identify milder concussions, leading most cases to go undiagnosed, according to a university press release.
Wanner’s experiment involved injuring astrocytes by using pressure pulses to simulate an external brain injury. Damaged and dead astrocytes leak the four specific proteins directly into attached blood vessels, even when injuries are mild enough to not be recognized by CT scans.
Researchers also found the four proteins in the spinal fluid and blood samples of patients who suffered brain trauma. Three of the four proteins could be detected an hour after an injury, speeding up the process of diagnosis for brain trauma and concussion.
Researchers hope the blood test method can lead to a faster and simpler diagnosis of brain trauma, allowing for immediate rest and recovery for patients, according to the release. Chronic symptoms from undiagnosed brain trauma include epilepsy and amnesia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.